Night of the Fullback
IOWA CITY, Iowa The "how they do football" industry has exploded over the last few years. There are entire websites devoted to X-and-O talk, including the heralded Smart Football. Former Iowa defensive back Matt Bowen writes posts for Bleacher Report that are filled with strategy and technique.
And then there are Iowa fullbacks Adam Cox and Macon Plewa. The game is simple for them.
"When they [coaches] call 21 or 22 and we get in there and knock some people around and bring some physicality to this offense," said Cox, a walk-on from Chana, Ill. "It's a spread offense, but when we get in there, we want to do our part and make it a physical game."
The two stood side-by-side Tuesday and conducted interviews. Their answers weren't all that different.
"We at Iowa always take pride in being physical," said Plewa, a Franklin, Wis., native and walk-on who made the switch from linebacker last spring. "Whether it's a spread offense or not, we get in the game and we try to be as physical as possible."
Cox referred to "21? and "22? personnel. The first number counts the running backs in a formation. When it's a two, the fullback is on the field. In last week's victory at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes ran 22 personnel (the second "2? is the number of tight ends on the field) on 40 out of 83 plays. They ran 21 twice.
It was the night of the fullback.
"I'm glad you brought that up, because I tell you, both those guys are quietly doing a really good job," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We used them more Saturday than we have, but they've earned our confidence."
It does seem a bit redundant when you line up a fullback for Mark Weisman, the former fullback who made the switch to running back three games into the 2012 season and now is No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing after three weeks this season.
It was exactly what the Iowa staff wanted last week. The Hawkeyes ran 60 times against Iowa State. Weisman leads the nation in rush attempts with 85. The Hawkeyes are No. 3 with 161. Not a lot of teams use a fullback anymore and no one recruits them, but Iowa has two fullbacks and, so far, hasn't been shy about putting them on the field.
Sometimes, football is a game of speed. Sometimes, it's a game of scheme. All the time, it's a game of will.
But never mind all that stuff. You're not even sure these two want the ball. You're not even sure they know there's a ball out there.
"I'm fine with that," Cox said about the prospect of never seeing a carry or reception. "I'm not a very good talker, I don't like the spotlight. I'm fine with doing just what we're doing now. Running into people and, you know, knocking them down."
And Plewa, "I agree. We have a lot of athletes on this team. They're finding a lot of unique ways to use everyone. We're just accepting our role right now and whatever it takes, we'll do."
The fact that fullbacks were on the field for half of the offensive plays last week tells you their value. Their teammates notice the physical mentality the two bring and they appreciate it.
"I know playing fullback, it's tough out there," said Weisman, who has seen some time at fullback this season. "Quick reads, physical play. You're a heat-seeking missile every play, getting your head on people. But yeah, it's unbelievable what they do out there. They've done such a good job."
Quarterback Jake Rudock said the main job for Cox and Plewa is to "go out and clean stuff up." Rudock means blocking anyone who crosses their face. When Cox and Plewa head home to their apartment at night, "clean up" means picking up after Weisman.
Yes, the three are roommates.
"Sometimes, he doesn't clean up after himself," Plewa said with a laugh. "I'm just kidding."
This was a rare day in the sun for Iowa's fullbacks. Cox really doesn't enjoy the spotlight. Plewa joked freely. It's not often they talk in front of the cameras and that's OK.
Offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said they do their talking with their pads. That's how the position goes. Asked if it takes a mad man to play fullback, Scherff laughed and nodded.
"Yeah, look at those two over there," he said. "They just like going out and hitting people. They've been trying to prove something since they've been here and I think they have."