Never saw him coming

IOWA CITY – Iowa fullback Mark Weisman did his best Sam Brownlee impersonation in Iowa’s 27-16 win over Northern Iowa at sun-splashed Kinnick Stadium here Saturday.

Eight years after the former Emmetsburg standout became the Hawkeyes’ top backfield option following an avalanche of injuries, Weisman climbed an eerily similar ladder and made the most of his fortuitous – albeit unfortunate – opportunity in helping Iowa through a damage-control victory over the upset-minded Panthers.

The parallels are impossible to ignore. Five backs went down ahead of Brownlee in 2004, when the former E-Hawk all-stater was thrust into the starting lineup as Jermelle Lewis, Marcus Schnoor, Albert Young, Marques Simmons and Champ Davis all got hurt.

On Saturday, Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon became the latest Iowa injury victims, joining Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill on the sidelines. Marcus Coker and De’Andre Johnson were long gone. That left only the 220-pound Weisman and fellow brute Brad Rogers to tote the ball for head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Watch out for the falling piano.

Like Brownlee, Weisman came to the Hawkeye program as a walk-on. Like Brownlee, Weisman probably never figured he’d be the team’s primary ball carrier.

Yet like Brownlee, Weisman somehow became just that – and did his part by rushing for 113 yards and three touchdowns against UNI.

”That was not scripted, I can assure you,” Ferentz smiled afterward. ”We thought he might play a little but we did not foresee the circumstances.

”He runs tough. He’s done a great job. When you have a back who is physical (like Weisman), the linemen feed off that. Mark’s just a hard-working guy.”

Weisman’s career began at Air Force. The Buffalo Grove, Ill. native transferred to Iowa in the fall of 2010 and sat out last season. Weisman isn’t currently on scholarship, though Ferentz said ”even though we were booked up at 85 (players on scholarship), he’d be getting one hopefully in January as soon as it became available.”

Ferentz joked on Saturday that the redshirt sophomore ”must have not liked having guys bounce quarters off his bed” at Air Force.

”I’m not quite sure how he got here frankly. We don’t get a lot of out-of-state walk-ons. He sat out last year and we were joking about it back in camp, I said, ‘we’ve got to pull a tooth on this guy to find out how many years he has left here.’

”He quietly went about his business and we really started to notice him in the spring. I’m just glad he’s here.”

In 2004, Brownlee was the first Iowa walk-on to start at running back in 17 years. He finished with just 227 yards but never once fumbled as Iowa went on to earn a share of the Big Ten championship with a 10-2 overall record.

These Hawkeyes may not be confused with their predecessors, and Weisman won’t be earning any Heisman Trophy votes anytime soon. On Saturday, though, Iowa did its job because Weisman flourished in his. That’s how it all begins. Just ask Brownlee.