IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz thinks the Hawkeyes' traditionally strong running attack has finally found some traction.
Mark Weisman and Akrum Wadley combined for 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns, leading Iowa to a 48-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes, who have had a few injuries in the backfield, also got their first 100-yard rusher in 11 games.
"If we're going to be any good, we have to run the ball effectively," Ferentz said. "The run game is all about detail and execution. I think we took a step forward today."
The Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) raced to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and scored their most points in a conference game in almost nine years.
Northwestern (3-5, 2-3) dropped its third straight game after being held to a season-low 180 yards of offense.
Weisman and Wadley jolted Iowa's running game that ranked 10th in the Big Ten entering Saturday's game.
Weisman rushed for a season-high 94 yards and three touchdowns. It was the senior's fifth straight game with multiple scores. The bruising back's 29 career touchdowns rank third on Iowa's all-time list.
"It's a mindset thing," said Weisman, a Chicago native. "We came out fired up and kept it going.
"This team has had the potential to do this kind of stuff all year, but we just weren't executing. Today, we definitely executed."
Wadley ran for 106 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. The freshman was Iowa's first 100-yard rusher in 11 games.
Wadley provided an unexpected boost with Iowa's Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels sidelined due to injuries. The Hawkeyes lost a third running back, Jonathan Parker, on the opening kickoff.
"I've been having dreams about it, so when (Ferentz) told me to go in, I was like, 'Wow, that's crazy,'" said Wadley, the first Hawkeyes player to rush for 100 yards in his debut since Brandon Wegher in 2009.
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 239 yards, including a pretty 31-yard fade to Tevaun Smith in the end zone.
The Hawkeyes led 24-0 just 12 minutes into the game, using a stifling defense and an offense that clicked after being inconsistent the first half of the season.
Iowa's defense was simply too much for Northwestern, which had won six of the last nine in the series.
The Hawkeyes recorded five sacks, scored off a blocked punt and recovered a fumble.
"It just looked like we got down and then all of a sudden we tried to make too many things out of one play," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "You can't do that on the road against a physical football team."
Weisman started the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run on Iowa's opening drive.
After Northwestern punted, Rudock's 42-yard flea-flicker pass to a wide-open Matt VandeBerg set up a Marshall Koehn 48-yard field goal.
Weisman added a 14-yard TD run for a 17-0 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter.
Then, Iowa freshman Ben Niemann blocked a Northwestern punt and picked the ball up at the 1-yard line for an easy touchdown. It was the Hawkeyes' first blocked punt since 2011 against Purdue.
The Wildcats' only score came after Iowa flubbed a snap to the punter deep in its own territory.
Northwestern's Justin Jackson ran for a 1-yard score four plays later, just a minute into the second quarter.
Jackson finished with 96 yards on 24 attempts.
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian was under heavy pressure most of the game.
Siemian completed 8 of 18 passes for 68 yards. Iowa defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat recorded a career-best three sacks.
The Wildcats managed only 55 yards in the first half and converted only four of 15 third-down plays. The 38-7 halftime deficit was Northwestern's largest since trailing Wisconsin, 49-17, on Nov. 27, 2010.
Iowa safety John Lowdermilk forced a fumble late in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes quickly converted the turnover into a Weisman 8-yard touchdown run.
The Hawkeyes looked better defensively than they did two weeks ago against Maryland. Broken tackles and missed assignments led to a 38-31 loss.
Iowa has a lot to play for in the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes travel to Minnesota (6-2, 3-1) in a pivotal game next week and finish the season against the other contenders, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
"We made some real improvement there," Ferentz said. "It's going to be critical for us to continue to improve down the stretch here, too."
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