IOWA CITY, Iowa — When University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has his pick of ice cream, he’ll opt for long-time Ben & Jerry’s staple Cherry Garcia.
But as Ferentz knows, there are occasions when there is nothing wrong with a heaping helping of vanilla.
Two games into the 2013 season, the Hawkeye offense has had no shortage of flavor — five-receiver sets, a hurry-up, no-huddle look and the shuffling of running backs and tight ends into a number of receiver slots.
The Iowa look has been varied, but when it was time to win a football game last week, the Hawkeyes favored vanilla and put the ball in the hands of Mark Weisman, sending him through the heart of the defense and daring opponents to bring down the 6-foot, 236-pound back.
Weisman carried the ball 30 times last week against Missouri State and his 180 yards were the most by a Big Ten back during the opening weeks of the season.
The junior is one of five players in the conference who have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the first two weeks, and Weisman is ready for more.
“Whatever it takes,’’ he said.
This week, he’d settle for one carry if it meant Iowa would end its two-game losing streak to in-state rival Iowa State in Saturday’s 5 p.m. game at Jack Trice Stadium.
Weisman was on the field throughout the Hawkeyes’ 9-6 loss to the Cyclones a year ago at Kinnick Stadium, but didn’t carry the ball once while lining up at fullback.
He did have a 3-yard reception in the game, but later dropped a potential touchdown catch on a 3rd-and-goal play from the ISU 3-yard line in the opening minute of the fourth quarter with Iowa trailing 9-3.
“It was a ball I should have caught,’’ Weisman said. “I was in traffic, but that’s not an excuse. I should have had it. That was one of those plays you see over and over in your sleep, but you have to move on.’’
Weisman did just that the following week, emerging at running back out of necessity when Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon went down with injuries in a win over Northern Iowa.
When healthy in the games since, Weisman has developed into a physical, reliable playmaker.
His game is built on power, making the most of his passion for work in the weight room, and Weisman prefers following the lead of the Hawkeye offensive line to crafting shifty moves of his own.
“We have great linemen here and they’re giving me the room I need to make plays,’’ Weisman said. “I don’t need to make a bunch of cuts and spins and do all of those things. I just play football.’’
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads appreciates that as he watches Weisman work on tape in preparation for the renewal of the Cy-Hawk rivalry.
“I remember a year ago watching that offensive line, knowing what the future held for them and how strong and powerful they were going to be — and that’s showing up right now — and he benefits from them,’’ Rhoads said. “But, he’s a dang good football player.’’
To prepare for this season, Weisman put himself through conditioning work normally reserved for receivers and other skill players.
The objective was to improve that part of his game while maintaining the physical approach to running back that has made him effective.
“I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I do take pride in that. As running backs, I think we all take pride in finishing runs,’’ Weisman said. “I’m a big believer in strength and conditioning and how it can give me an edge. I think what happens in the weight room definitely carries over to the field.’’
Despite that, Weisman still feels the impact of every carry each Sunday morning.
“Once I get a run in and get a treatment, things are all right,’’ Weisman said. “It’s part of the deal. Once I’m moving around on Sunday, I’m good to go.’’
One carry or 30, Weisman’s teammates appreciate that.
“When I tell him he’s getting the ball, he’s always like ‘I’m ready,’ ‘Let’s go,’ and he is,’’ quarterback Jake Rudock said. “He’s a tough, tough back.’’
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz likes the way Weisman runs through defenders rather than around them, shedding would-be tacklers every step of the way.
“He doesn’t back down from anybody. It seems like he breaks a tackle on almost every play,’’ Fiedorowicz said. “The linebackers have to respect that and it opens things up for us in the passing game, in play action. It really helps.’’
Weisman is aware that he doesn’t have to do it alone, although he has carried the ball on half of the 100 run plays Iowa has had in its first two games.
He has shared time in the backfield with Damon Bullock, while Jordan Canzeri and true freshman LeShun Daniels have factored into the running game as well.
Although Weisman has been the Hawkeyes’ workhorse, its depth at the position may prove to be the real strength.
“All four of them are a little different,’’ Ferentz said. “The idea is that things will be dictated by how the game goes, but Mark’s doing a good job, and we’re not surprised by that.’’