IOWA CITY | James Vandenberg is ready to hand the football off to whoever is healthy enough to carry it Saturday night for Iowa.
The Hawkeye quarterback doesn’t believe a lack of healthy, experienced running backs will alter Iowa’s plans for its 7 p.m. game against Penn State.
“We’ll continue to do the things that we do and we will need to be able to run the football,’’ Vandenberg said Tuesday. “There’s plenty of guys who can fill that role.’’
As the Hawkeyes returned to the practice field Tuesday to begin preparations for the Nittany Lions, coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t sure who his team’s primary back will be against Penn State.
“It’s basically all hands on deck,’’ Ferentz said.
Mark Weisman, who has averaged 6.3 yards per carry while topping 100 yards in Iowa’s last four games, is attempting to work his way back from a sprained right ankle.
The sophomore suffered the injury at the end of his 5-yard touchdown run which tied Saturday’s double-overtime game at 13-all with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
An MRI on Monday revealed nothing more than a sprain and cleared medically to return to practice, Weisman will test the ankle at practice the next few days. He was spotted wearing support on his right foot while walking briskly, but with a bit of a limp, toward the training room at the Iowa football complex early Tuesday afternoon.
“He’ll do some light work and we’ll see where he’s at on Thursday,’’ Ferentz said. “Realistically, you’re talking about a guy trying to be a running back. I think he would have to make a lot of progress to be able to play, so we’ll take that mental approach. If he does join us, great.’’
His ability to cut and deal with the defensive pressure Penn State will dish out will likely determine his availability.
Damon Bullock, Iowa’s starter in the first three games of the year, is not an option. A setback suffered in practice late last week will again keep the sophomore off the field as he works his way back from a head injury.
If Weisman cannot play and with Bullock ruled out, Ferentz said all other options will be considered.
“We’re playing for today,’’ Ferentz said.
True freshman Greg Garmon, who has carried 14 times for 35 yards, sits at the top of the depth chart this week, but if necessary redshirt plans for Jordan Canzeri or Michael Malloy could change.
Canzeri began spring practices as Iowa’s top running back, but tore an ACL during spring drills and has not played since being cleared to resume practicing four weeks ago.
“We have a very limited pool of guys right now, so I think it’s realistic to think that he’s thick into it,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s been bugging me for a month, over a month, to get back on the field. It’s not a difficult decision. We have a limited number of guys and we’re trying to win games.’’
Ferentz said Canzeri, who is listed as Garmon’s back-up on the depth chart, has practiced hard.
“Jordan showed us last December that he is capable and Garmon’s going to be fine, too,’’ Ferentz said. “We need as many guys as possible.’’
Garmon recorded all four of his carries and his pass reception against Michigan State during the overtime session and Vandenberg said he handled the situation well.
“When he came in, I told him I had confidence in him and reminded him of keys that freshmen sometimes forget. He did a nice job of filling in and certainly was a big part of that victory,’’ Vandenberg said. “He’ll be getting a lot of reps with the first team this week, and getting first-team time for a full week for him will be big.’’
- Two days after celebrating his game-deciding interception at Michigan State, Hawkeye defensive back Greg Castillo learned that his father, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, had been removed from his coaching position in the NFL.
- Teammate Tom Donatell, whose father Ed is the secondary coach of the San Francisco 49ers, said he reached out to Castillo early Tuesday.
- “It can be a tough business, and I just let him know that I was there to support him,’’ Donatell said.
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said that Juan Castillo won’t likely be out of work for long, saying, “There will be a long line of suitors wanting to hire him. He’s an excellent football coach.’’
- Cornerback B.J. Lowery and offensive guard Austin Blythe have both been cleared medically to return to full workouts this week. Blythe made the trip to Michigan State and was available for emergency duty, but was able to rest an injured ankle for additional time.
- Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens leads the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision with his average of 13 tackles per game, moving back into the top spot on the same week when former Hawkeye Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings moved the top spot on the NFL tackle charts.
- Approximately 300 tickets remain for Saturday’s game.