IOWA CITY, Iowa — They may be smaller than the running back they typically block for, but fullbacks Adam Cox and Macon Plewa are making a big impact on the University of Iowa’s running game.
“Those guys are blowing open some big-time holes,’’ running back Mark Weisman said.
A bit of a dinosaur in an era of spread offenses, Cox and Plewa are making the fullback fashionable in the Hawkeye' power running attack as Iowa prepares for its final nonconference matchup Saturday at 11 a.m. against Western Michigan.
The Hawkeyes spent much of last Saturday’s 27-21 win at Iowa State lined up in a very traditional Big Ten look featuring two tight ends to go with a fullback and running back.
It’s that look — a 22 or 21 call which means that the running back-fullback combination will be on the field for Iowa — which allows Cox and Plewa to do their thing.
“When they call 21 or 22 and we get in there and knock some people around, it’s a good day,’’ Cox said. “It’s a chance to bring some physicality to this offense. It’s a spread offense we’re running, but when we get in there and do our part to make it a physical game, that’s a lot of fun.’’
Each forged their own path to the Iowa backfield.
Both initially walked onto the Hawkeye program.
Cox, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound native of Chana, Ill., was a dominant back in high school. He rushed for 1,782 yards and scored 34 touchdowns and collected 94 tackles as a senior on an Illinois Class 3A state runner-up team at Stillman Valley.
The 6-2, 234-pound Plewa, a native of Franklin, Wis., made his mark as a prep linebacker, where he had 135 tackles, including 52 solo stops as a senior. He competed as a linebacker from the time he arrived at Iowa in the fall of 2011 until moving to fullback this year during spring drills.
“It’s a chance to play football and I like the position,’’ Plewa said. “Especially when (assistant coach Chris) White gets really passionate about it, gets us amped up before any big plays in practice or a game and sends us out there to have some fun.’’
A converted fullback himself, Weisman appreciates the job being done by Cox and Plewa, a pair of sophomores who also happen to be his roommates.
“When you play fullback, you have to bring a certain toughness to the game and it’s not easy. There are a lot of quick reads that have to be made and you have to like playing physical football,’’ said Weisman, who carries 236 pounds on his 6-foot frame. “Those guys are right for the job.’’
They’ve helped open holes which have allowed Iowa to average 239.3 yards per game on the ground so far this season.
Coach Kirk Ferentz likes the job that Cox and Plewa are doing, saying both been quietly effective in helping make the Hawkeye offense work.
Ferentz said Cox impressed coaches during spring drills.
“Whatever he weighs at a given point, he uses it, and Macon’s the same way,’’ Ferentz said. “Macon went from linebacker over to fullback and picked it up amazingly well. Those guys are both doing a good job and we did use them more Saturday than we have, but they have earned our confidence.’’
Cox has returned two kicks for Iowa this season and Plewa is involved in special teams as well, but neither have carried the ball or a caught pass in a game yet this season.
“They have stuff in the offense to get us the ball in different ways, but it really hasn’t been working yet, so they’ve stuck with what works and that’s blocking,’’ Cox said. “I do know if they call our numbers, both us will be ready.’’
And if that doesn’t happen, Cox is ready to live with that, too.
“I’m fine doing what I’m doing right now, running into people and knocking them down,’’ Cox said.
It’s a role Plewa has quickly adapted to since shifting over last spring.
“You kind of live out of the spotlight when you play fullback, but I’m fine with that,’’ he said. “It feels good being out on the field, playing football and helping the team.’’