The Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) will be facing some déjà vu when the Michigan State Spartans (3-1, 0-0) visit Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz and company are off to their best start in four years and are riding a four-game winning streak.
A win against the Spartans will be evidence that the Hawkeyes are ready to challenge no. 17 Northwestern and no. 19 Michigan for a chance to compete for a Big Ten title.
Last season, the Hawkeyes entered their game against the Spartans with a 3-2 record and were needing a signature win to help lift them through the rest of their conference schedule . The Hawkeyes beat Michigan State 19-16 in overtime, but did not win again until nearly a month ago when they prevailed 28-14 over Missouri State.
On Saturday, Iowa will face its first true test of the season against the always resilient Michigan State Spartans after beating Minnesota last week 23-7 in its Big Ten opener.
This year however, Iowa seems to be a very different team.
The immense offensive struggles of last year’s team have been replaced by efficient quarterback play and a dominate rushing attack. Sophomore Jake Rudock was a question mark coming into the season, but has progressed nicely on the field throughout his first five games as a starter.
Quarterback Jake Rudock attempts a pass against Minnesota in Iowa’s 23-7 win over the Gophers on September 28.
The passing game is still a work in progress however, and what vision Rudock has lacked — he has thrown four interceptions — through the air, he has made up with his feet: the Weston, Fla. native has rushed for five touchdowns.
Rudock has accounted for 11 total touchdowns thus far and is completing 61% of his passes. At this point last year, former Hawkeye James Vandenberg only had two touchdowns.
Rudock’s success however, is attributed to running back Mark Weisman. Weisman has been — and will continue to be barring an injury — Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis’s go-to-guy.
Part of the reason Iowa only had four wins last season was because they didn’t have any healthy players at running back. Weisman, who hurt his ankle last season, has been durable so far — through five games he has 119 carries — and is the key to the Hawkeyes success.
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The Buffalo Grove, Ill native has 615 rushing yards and is averaging five yards per rush. Weisman and back-up Damon Bullock are the reason why Iowa is ranked 19th in the nation in rushing yards (244) per game.
Michigan State is just the first game of a difficult October stretch for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has been successful and will rely on Weisman and Rudock to lead them through the rest of its conference schedule.
If one of them falters or the offense fails to produce points, the Hawkeyes are at risk of suffering another rough season.