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Hawkeyes running game caught in rut heading to Purdue

[ 0 ] November 8, 2013 |

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Iowa’s running game has lost its way the last month, something that Mark Weisman takes personally.

“We want to get back to where we were before, and where Iowa football needs to be,” said Weisman, Iowa’s leading rusher this season with 747 yards heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. “That’s something we have to do.”

After rushing for more than 200 yards in each of its first five games, negotiating real estate on Saturdays has been much tougher for Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t rushed for more than 136 yards in any of their last four games.

“It’s frustrating, yeah, but they’ve done a good job preparing for us,” Hawkeye left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “We’ve just got to do better preparing for them. We have to focus on the details.”

Purdue, 0-4 in the Big Ten and 1-7 overall, might be the perfect tonic for Iowa’s sluggish running game. The Boilermakers are last in the league in rushing defense at 291.5 yards a game. Iowa, 2-3 in the Big Ten, 5-4 overall and trying to become bowl-eligible Saturday, is ninth in rushing offense at 130 yards a game.

Mark Weisman is Iowa’s leading rusher this season with 747 yards heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Purdue. (Bryon Houlgrave / Register photo)

Mark Weisman is Iowa’s leading rusher this season with 747 yards heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Purdue. (Bryon Houlgrave / Register photo)

Weisman had 147 yards rushing against Minnesota in the Big Ten opener Sept.<TH>28, and the Hawkeyes had 246 in the 23-7 victory.

Iowa hasn’t had a back carry for more than 58 yards since. That’s happened only one other time in the 15-year Kirk Ferentz era — in 2004, when injuries to Albert Young and Jermelle Lewis took the starch out of Iowa’s ground attack.

In fairness, this season’s team has tried to run the ball against some exceptional defenses in conference play. Iowa’s three losses have come to three of the nation’s top five teams against the rush. Michigan State is No.<TH>1, Ohio State No.<TH>4 and Wisconsin No.<TH>5.

“We play better if we can run it,” Ferentz said. “I’m not overly thrilled with what we’re doing right now (in the running game). We need to amp that up a little bit.”

Iowa has had somebody rush for 100 yards or more in 52 Big Ten games under Ferentz; the Hawkeyes won 36 of those games

Purdue has allowed at least one 100-yard rusher in each of its four Big Ten games to date. Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde had 111 yards; Jeremy Langford of Michigan State had 131; Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska had 126; and Wisconsin’s tandem of Melvin Gordon (147) and James White (145) both toppled the century mark.

“We’ve just got to fight through this right now,” said Weisman, who broke the 100-yard barrier in both of Iowa’s 2012 Big Ten victories. “We’ve got to break some tackles and make some plays.”

Center Austin Blythe said the offensive line is committed to improving things down this season’s stretch drive.

“It’s on us, as an offensive line, to get the running game going,” Blythe said.

There are been some glimpses, most notably in a 34-24 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 19. Iowa had 27 rushes for 130 yards, a 4.8 average per carry. That is the most yards a Ferentz-coached team has had in nine games with the Buckeyes. It’s also the most yards, and the highest per-carry average, Ohio State has yielded this season.

“They’re a pretty good football team, and we did OK running the ball there,” Ferentz said.

Iowa averaged just 1.4 yards a carry in a 26-14 loss to Michigan State; 3.3 in a 17-10 overtime victory over Michigan State; and 3.6 in last week’s 28-9 loss to Wisconsin.

Iowa’s struggles on the ground are reflected in two other statistics. The Hawkeyes have been in the red zone 16 times in Big Ten play, but scored just five touchdowns.

Iowa’s third-down conversion rate in league games is just 42.2 percent (30 of 71).

“I think this is a big game for us as an offensive line,” Blythe said, “just to be able to get back on the right track.” Blythe said.

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IOWA’S RUSHING ATTACK IN BIG TEN GAMES UNDER KIRK FERENTZ

Yards per carry — Yards per game — Games with 100-yard rusher

2013 — 4.0 — 130.0 — 1

2012 — 3.3 — 106.6 — 3

2011 — 4.2 — 144 — 5

2010 — 3.8 — 120.6 — 5

2009 — 2.8 — 97 — 3

2008 — 4.8 — 188.7 — 8

2007 — 3.1 — 110.5 — 1

2006 — 4.7 — 136 — 2

2005 — 4.6 — 173 — 7

2004 — 1.7 — 58.6 — 0

2003 — 3.6 — 145.2 — 5

2002 — 4.5 — 199.6 — 6

2001 — 4.1 — 163.6 — 3

2000 — 3.0 — 107.3 — 4

1999 — 3.0 — 89.6 — 2

 

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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