IOWA CITY, Iowa -- With or without sophomore running sensation Mark Weisman, the University of Iowa football team will keep scrapping Saturday night in prime-time against Penn State.
"One thing about football, things are always changing," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz at his weekly news conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "We went through that (last) Saturday, all of a sudden Weisman is out, and you keep trying to find the winning combination. As long as everybody's working hard at it, you've got a shot."
Ferentz says the Hawkeyes need to prepare with the assumption Weisman -- the team's leading rusher with 631 rushing yards and eight touchdowns -- will not play. With the top two running backs questionable, the Hawkeyes turn to freshman Greg Garmon and sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who has yet to play a snap in 2012.Iowa will need to find enough offense vs. Penn State, but look for Iowa to lean heavily on the defense vs. Nittany Lions at home. Defense, after all, wins championships and has aided Iowa in season's past.
"They're going to let him work today a little bit," Ferentz said of Weisman. "This is the varsity we are playing this week, so it's a whole different deal. He would have to make a lot of progress to be able to play, so we'll have to take the mental approach that he's not going to be here. If he does join us, it would be great.University of Iowa junior linebacker Christian Kirksey is looking forward to Iowa's only primetime game of the season Saturday night as the Hawkeyes host Penn State (7:05 p.m., BTN) in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes have played one night game in Kinnick Stadium each year of Kirksey's career, and he says the atmosphere is better than ever for night games. "It's a great environment when we get a chance to play a night game at home," said Kirksey, following Wednesday's practice. "The student section will be on fire. As a team we are excited about the opportunity as well." Kirksey has started all six games for the Hawkeyes at outside linebacker and has started 19 straight games over the past two seasons. He is currently fourth on the team in tackles with 14 solo stops and 23 assists. Kirksey had an interception return for 68 yards in Iowa's win over Minnesota for his only career touchdown. Kirksey knows the Iowa defense has a tough challenge ahead on Saturday night. "Last year at Penn State was a physical battle," said Kirksey. "We're a young team, we have to keep our focus. We know Big Ten games are going to be physical. We have to practice hard to be prepared for that Saturday night." The Hawkeyes dropped a 13-3 decision at Penn State a year ago, but this week face the Nittany Lions after consecutive wins over Minnesota and Michigan State. Kirksey has teamed with fellow juniors James Morris and Anthony Hitchens to provide Iowa with a solid trio of linebackers. "We watch film together, we prepare together so we know we are seeing the same things," said Kirksey. "We all came in together in the same class. We've been through spring practice together, through camp, now we're having fun being out there in games playing together."
"We have a limited pool of guys right now, so I think it's realistic to think that (Canzeri) is thick into it. He has played one game, and they were tough carries, but at least he has played, been tackled at the Division I level, and has looked good in practice. Given our circumstance, it's realistic to think he'll play."
Canzeri appeared in seven games as a true freshman, including a start in the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma. He rushed for 114 yards on 37 carries in 2011, to go along with six receptions for 28 yards with one touchdown.
Ferentz says the Hawkeyes can't abandon their running attack against Penn State, but the passing game needs to step up.
"We are not going to give up on the run, but we are going to try to compensate a little bit and spread it around and do what we can," said Ferentz. "It's not going to be easy. These guys get after you good up front; it's going to be a good challenge for our line to try to neutralize their front."
The Nittany Lions (4-2 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) have won four straight games in '12 heading into Kinnick Stadium. Penn State's defense is 15th in the country in scoring, giving up 16 points per game; Iowa is 17th, surrendering 17.2.
Last season's contest in Happy Valley fit the same defensive bill, a game the Nittany Lions won 13-3 to snap a three-game Iowa winning streak in the series. Penn State last win at Kinnick Stadium was in 1999.
"They beat us toe-to-toe," said Ferentz of the 2011 game. "They beat a lot of people toe-to-toe last year. If you look at their defense right now, it's not identical to what they have been, but they look very similar.
"They have three outstanding linebackers, their front four guys are really good, and they are very athletic in the secondary. They have a lot of good players on that team, and it's going to be tough for us to try and match up against them, because they are very talented."
With another defensive-oriented game on the docket, Ferentz feels fortunate to have an ace in his back pocket in junior placekicker Mike Meyer. The Dubuque, Iowa, native has made 14-of-15 field goals this season, including 13 straight dating back to the season-opener.
"We don't have a lot of proven week-in, week-out players on our team right now," said Ferentz. "We are kind of scrapping along here, but Mike has entered that point I think in his career. We all have confidence in Mike right now. He has done such a good job."
Saturday's game will begin at 7:01 p.m. (CT), and be televised to a national audience live on the BTN. Eric Collins, Derek Rackley and Jon Jansen will call the action.
Our Pick: Iowa 20, Penn State 16.