IOWA CITY – The Iowa football team made great strides in their third game of the season.
The Hawkeyes came back from a tough home loss to Iowa State. They continued improving on defense, once again not allowing a point in the fourth quarter, and only three points after halftime. And the offense finally found something it had been missing – touchdowns.
Iowa (2-1) knows it must keep getting better this week in the final tuneup before Big Ten play begins. Central Michigan (1-1) visits Kinnick Stadium Saturday for an 11:01 a.m. game.
The biggest step forward in the Hawkeyes’ 27-16 win over Northern Iowa came on offense, despite injuries that took out the team’s top two running backs.
Damon Bullock suffered an apparent concussion. His return this week is doubtful. Greg Garmon left with an elbow injury. His return will be based on what he does this week in practice.
Fullback Mark Weisman sparked a unit that had scored only one touchdown in Iowa’s first two games. He scored three touchdowns while running for 113 yards, most coming from the tailback spot.
Part of Weisman’s success came from an offensive line that opened up massive holes for the Air Force Academy transfer.
“We were able to take some positive steps forward. We can’t discredit those backs. Mark made a lot of those yards on his own and Damon made some great cuts back there. Those guys deserve all the credit,” said center James Ferentz. “Up front, we just need to do a better job communicating. There are still a lot of things we have to improve upon and hopefully this week we move forward.”
Weisman is listed as the starting tailback this week with freshman Mike Malloy the No. 2 guy. Malloy did not dress last week after getting sick during the week. Jordan Canzeri, who underwent knee surgery in the spring, has been medically cleared and is available if needed.
For the second straight week, the line also protected quarterback James Vandenberg.
After giving up six sacks in the season opener against Northern Illinois, the Hawkeyes have not allowed a sack versus Iowa State or UNI.
Despite the positives, the line knows it needs to continue moving ahead as Big Ten play looms.
“We can’t afford not to improve every week,” James Ferentz said. “And then with Big Ten play right around the corner … we just want to start really taking those big steps forward.”
With the ground game and protection moving forward, the passing game needs to improve as well.
Vandenberg completed 18-of-28 passes against the Panthers, with half of his completions going for 10 yards or more. He connected with six receivers.
“We definitely took a step forward but we know we have to continue getting better,” said Vandenberg.
The Hawkeyes continue to look for a third receiver behind Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis.
Don Shumpert did not catch a pass against UNI, while Jordan Cotton caught his second career pass on a third-down conversion.
“You’ve got Shumpert, and Jordan jumped in there and had a nice third-down catch. So we have got a help wanted sign up, no doubt about that,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “That group overall has practiced a lot better since the start of August.”
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz will need to be a part of the receiving game as the season moves forward.
The junior has 10 catches for 109 yards.
“I think he played better and smarter than he did the week before that. Didn’t leave his feet when he had the ball, some things like that,” Ferentz said. “But those are the things he’s learning if you tally up the amount of plays that he’s had so far in his career, there are not that many.”
The Hawkeyes have had great balance on offense over their three games.
Iowa’s backs have 120 carries while it has thrown the ball 103 times.
“I think that balance has helped us control the game and keep the ball away from the other team,” said Vandenberg.
The Hawkeyes have held the ball for 33 minutes, 37 seconds to 26:23 for their opponents.