EVANSTON, Ill. – Mark Weisman is back home Saturday, the offensive star of an Iowa football team playing in a stadium he visited as a youngster.
He was there just once, however, because back then, his parents weren’t all that into athletic endeavors like what begins at 11 a.m., Saturday at Northwestern’s Ryan Field.
That was before Weisman, of nearby Buffalo Grove, showed a penchant for big-time football. It was before he transferred from the Air Force Academy to Iowa. It was before he became the Hawkeyes’ surprising rushing leader with 640 yards on 105 carries.
And certainly it was before he sprained an ankle against Michigan State, leaving his status as iffy to contribute significantly in a game played 20 miles from where he attended high school.
“I’m going to do my best to play,” said Weisman, whose ankle was still unsteady last Saturday while rushing five times for nine yards in a 24-point loss against Penn State. “I want to get back in there and play a whole game, but at the same time, I don’t want to hurt the team in any way. I’m not going to do that.”
The sophomore worked as rigorously to regain his health the past two weeks as he worked to improve his strength during offseason weight room sessions.
Multiple times a day, Weisman sought ankle treatment. Before class. Between classes. After practice.
“You get in the training room as much as you can,” he said. “You do your homework in there. There were no more naps.”
He studied while propped up on a table with ice on his ankle. He worked on a paper while undergoing ultrasound and electronic stimulation procedures.
He ran in the pool – without his school work, of course, because he said he didn’t want to get it wet.
“I’m doing stuff I don’t even know what it’s called,” Weisman said this week. “You do it until they tell you to stop.”
However much he plays as Iowa searches for two more wins to become bowl eligible is uncertain.
“He really made a good comeback last week,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think he’ll be fine.”
Until the injury, Weisman averaged 6.3 yards a carry, and that’s a statistic relevant Saturday. The best defense against a Wildcats spread-attack offense might be long, productive Iowa possessions. It will be important to keep Northwestern’s firepower on the sidelines.
“We’ve got to do our part and keep the ball as long as we can,” Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg said. “That’s always the case, but it seems more important against a team like Northwestern.”
The Wildcats average 74.6 plays a game – third in the conference. Running back Venric Mark averages 129.0 in four conference games.
They’re 13-for-13 during possessions within 20 yards of the end zone – with 10 touchdowns and three field goals.
Translated: When they have the ball, they usually move it, and that’s why it is important for Weisman to play well in front of crowd that will include family and friends.
“There will be a pretty good amount of people there for me,” Weisman said. “A lot of people have texted me to get them tickets, or at least wondered should they buy them.
“I’m excited about it. I’ve been to just one game there — when I was younger. I’m looking forward to being back.”
WHAT: Iowa (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) at Northwestern (6-2, 2-2), 11 a.m. CT. (ESPN2)
LINE: Northwestern by 6
SERIES: Tied 47-23-3
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Northwestern is seeking its fourth win in five tries over the Hawkeyes. Iowa needs to bounce back after being thrashed by Penn State 38-14.
Iowa’s defense vs. Northwestern QB/QR Kain Colter. The Wildcats have hurt the Hawkeyes with their versatility in recent years. Iowa needs to be aware of Colter at all times and make sure he doesn’t get free for big plays.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
– Iowa. RB Mark Weisman. He rushed for just nine yards against Penn State after spraining his ankle. If he’s healthy, Iowa’s offense is much more potent.
– Northwestern. RB Venric Mark. He can beat teams from tailback and as a returner. Like Colter, the Hawkeyes can’t let Mark get open space.
FACTS & FIGURES
– A win would give Northwestern’s seniors the distinction of being the winningest five-year class in school history with 36 victories.
– Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (14 years) and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (7 years) are the league’s most experienced coaches.
– The Hawkeyes and Wildcats have split the last 24 meetings, but Iowa hasn’t won in Evanston in five years.
– Associated Press
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football