One week ago, the Northwestern defense was preparing for the read-option attack of Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Red Burkhead—a unique style of offense run by one of the nation's top rushing attacks.
For Iowa week, the Wildcats tossed out their game plan and got back to the basics—get off the ball first and stop the run. The Hawkeyes present a different, yet equally challenging attack, attempting to run it down your throat. NU must adjust its schemes for a vastly different rushing style.
"You've really got to watch the film, realize you have to attack, and get back to the basic fundamentals—be the first one off the ball," defensive end Tyler Scott said.
But the running back Northwestern must prepare for may provide the most difficult task yet.
A transfer from Air Force, Mark Weisman walked on with Iowa and was pushed to the bottom of the fullback depth chart. He worked his way to the top of the depth chart, and then found himself in the role of starting running back against rival Iowa State after the team suffered several losses at the position.
Weisman has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and tallied eight touchdowns through seven games as the Hawkeyes' starter. The 6-foot, 234-pounder runs like a fullback, causing problems for an opposing defense.
"He's a physical, physical kid," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "He's impressive to watch."
Fitzgerald recalls evaluating Weisman—a product of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire—as a prospective recruit. However, it was determined that he wouldn't be a fit in Northwestern's spread attack.
"We identified his skillset to that of more of a fullback—a bigger-type back," said Fitzgerald. "That's the initial reason he went to Air Force then Iowa. To see how his role has increased, you have to be terribly impressed. He has done a terrific job for them. He's a big, physical guy."
Northwestern's run defense, ranked 29th in the country for yards allowed per game, is stressing the fundamentals for a battle with Weisman.
"He's a good runner," Scott said. "He comes downhill and he runs hard. We're definitely going to have to wrap up and have good tackling technique."
Added linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern's second-leading tackler: "If we stick to our fundamentals and read our keys, we should be fine."
The Wildcats remain confident in their plan to contain Weisman, but must be prepared for the Big Ten's toughest runner.