IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — For Iowa, a week off after a potential season-saving win over Minnesota was just about perfect.
The Hawkeyes were teetering on the brink of a free fall heading into its Sept. 29 showdown with the then-unbeaten Gophers. It took a dominant 31-13 win to convince many frustrated Iowa fans that the up-and-down Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) might have a chance at a decent year after all.
All of it could fall apart, of course, starting with Saturday's game at Michigan State (4-2, 1-1). But after keeping their season from getting away from them, the Hawkeyes had an extra seven days to prep for its first true road game.
"We just have to try to block that out and be a little more focused than you would be at home," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I just realized it's going to be a pretty tough environment from that standpoint. The biggest thing is still the team on the field. That's more of a concern to us than maybe the stadium."
Iowa suffered through a rather dismal September despite playing four in a row at home. The month included a home loss to Iowa State that doesn't look so bad in retrospect and another one to Central Michigan that always will.
But the Hawkeyes did sort out one very important detail. Backup fullback Mark Weisman is now a starting running back — and a good one at that.
Weisman's 217-yard performance was overshadowed in the loss to the Chippewas, but he was even better in his first effort against a BCS defense. He rushed for 156 yards in the first half alone against the Gophers. Though he didn't match the yardage he put up against Central Michigan, he staked Iowa to such a big early lead it hardly mattered.
Weisman will have some help on Saturday as the starter he replaced, Damon Bullock, is back after missing nearly three games with a head injury.
"They're both guys who have promise and have potential to be good players," Ferentz said. "Biggest thing we don't want to do is screw one of them up and have them do too much. If they can both focus on playing that running back position, I think, if we can get that established, we'd be well ahead of the game from where we were six weeks ago."
Michigan State might rank among the nation's biggest disappointments. But it still makes life miserable for opposing backs.
The Spartans are 10th in the nation, allowing just 86 yards rushing per game. Opponents are averaging three yards a carry and have run for scores just twice in six games.
Though Michigan State let Indiana score the first 17 points of last week's game, its defense adjusted to the quick tempo set by the Hoosiers and rallied for a 31-27 victory.
For all Indiana could do through the air, it rushed for just 35 yards.
"To come back in that game, there were going to be one of two statements made. Either it was going to be negative or positive at the end of the game. And we took the positive route," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
The extra week also gave the Hawkeyes more time to shore up a passing game that's been a disappointment much of this season.
Iowa has shown slow but somewhat steady improvement over the past few weeks, culminating in Vandenberg's steady 192-yard performance, one-touchdown performance against the Gophers.
But Vandenberg has been sluggish on the road, as Iowa won just one road game in 2011 away from Kinnick Stadium.
With the Spartans likely to focus on Weisman, the onus will be on Vandenberg and his skilled but inconsistent receiving corps to take advantage.
"When you play a really good defense, which Michigan State certainly is, you can't be one-dimensional in any way, on any down," Vandenberg said. "We've got to mix it up as much as possible to make sure they're not just teeing off on us."