Gophers prepare for stud RB Weisman

Mark Weisman ran for 177 yards and a score against the Gophers last year.

Iowa running back Mark Weisman runs the ball against the Gophers on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Weisman had 21 carries for 177 rushing yards and a touchdown last season against Minnesota. 

Credit: Iowa Athletic Communications Office

Photo courtesy of Iowa Athletic Communications Office

Iowa running back Mark Weisman runs the ball against the Gophers on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Weisman had 21 carries for 177 rushing yards and a touchdown last season against Minnesota. Credit: Iowa Athletic Communications Office

Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers will try and win back Floyd of Rosedale on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. But they’ll have to stop one of the top running backs in the Big Ten to do so.

That back is Iowa junior Mark Weisman, who rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown in the Hawkeyes’ 31-13 victory over Minnesota last season in Iowa City, Iowa.

“He’s a big back,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said. “He’s hard to tackle, got good bounce, great vision and he fits into what they do.”

Weisman credited his performance that day to his blockers. The bruising 6-foot, 236-pound converted fullback was Iowa’s leading rusher last season and is averaging 117 rushing yards per game this season.

As a freshman at Stevenson High School in Illinois, Weisman weighed in at just 140 pounds, according to his father, Larry Weisman. He gained about 50 pounds before his sophomore year and played on the varsity team.

Weisman rushed for more than 2,800 yards and had 38 rushing touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons at Stevenson. He committed to the Air Force Academy the summer before his senior year.

But after a semester, he transferred to Iowa because, he said, “it just wasn’t for me.” He joined the Hawkeyes as a walk-on, redshirted the 2011 season and earned playing time during fall camp in 2012.

Then injuries to Iowa’s top backs early in the season last year gave Weisman an opportunity at running back. And he didn’t disappoint, rattling off four consecutive 100-yard games before an injury limited his touches toward the end of the season.

Weisman appears healthy this season and leads the nation in rushing attempts through four games.

‘It’s going to take everything’

Iowa’s offense found success utilizing a two-tight end formation last year against Minnesota. Its offensive line opened huge holes for Weisman, especially in the first half, when he ran for 155 yards and a touchdown.

That opened opportunities in the passing game, including a flea-flicker early in the second quarter that gave Iowa a 17-0 lead and still haunts Gophers defenders.

“We watch that on film every once in a while just as a learning point,” Gophers safety Brock Vereen said.

Minnesota held Weisman to just 22 yards in the second half, though he carried the ball only five more times.

Former Gophers linebacker Mike Rallis said the team did a good job of refocusing at halftime last season, which allowed it to contain Weisman a little better.

“It was disappointing after the game,” Rallis said, “but during it, you don’t really have time to be disappointed.”

Kill was blunt on Tuesday in his assessment of last year’s Iowa game.

“They beat our butt for four quarters,” he said. “I don’t have any excuses. They just did.”

Kill said he thinks this year’s game will come down to turnovers.

Or it could come down to the Gophers’ ability to stop Weisman.

“To take him down, it’s going to take everything,” Vereen said. “We’re going to have to swarm tackle. We’re going to have to play sound defense.”