IOWA CITY — Damon Bullock has carved out a niche for himself in the Iowa backfield.
The junior continues to share the starting role at running back on the depth chart with Mark Weisman, providing a contrast in styles that is helping the Hawkeyes inside and out.
While Weisman has used his physical style to pile up many of his 732 yards through the heart of opposing defenses, Bullock is finding room to roam on the perimeter as both a running back and capable receiver.
In addition to rushing for 364 yards, he has gained 112 on 14 catches as the Hawkeyes’ third-leading receiver.
In Iowa’s last two games, Weisman has rushed for 108 yards on 23 carries, while Bullock has gained 108 yards on 27 attempts.
“I feel like I’m figuring out where I fit and what I can do to help this offense,’’ said Bullock, who rushed for his first touchdown of the season on the Hawkeyes’ game-opening drive last weekend against Northwestern.
Iowa coaches are seeing that on a daily basis.
“The last month or so, Damon has practiced really well,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s had a good month and in a perfect world, we’d like to see both of those guys contributing.’’
Juggling carries between multiple backs can be a challenge, but offensive coordinator Greg Davis believes there is room for both as Iowa works through the back half of its Big Ten schedule beginning with Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against 22nd-ranked Wisconsin.
“I think earlier in the year, Damon was looking for some home run and not following his blocking, but he brings something to our offense that’s a little bit different,’’ Davis said. “We need both those guys working at a high level to be able to get what we want out of them.’’
Bullock’s role includes helping Iowa execute its quick game, countering opponents who load up the box to stop the run.
“When we’re sitting up there and the box is starting to get loaded, we can flip it out to a slot receiver on a quick out for six yards and Damon gives us that chance,’’ Davis said. “If the quick game can be good, that can set up some things down the field.’’
Bullock averages 4 yards per carry for Iowa, numbers the 6-foot, 200-pound Texan expects to grow as the season progresses.
He said he is growing more comfortable with the offense and continues to learn how to make it work for him.
“The offensive line is doing a good job of creating holes and space for me to run, and I feel like I’m making some strides in letting the blockers work for me to give me a chance to make plays,’’ Bullock said.
He believes he complements the power game that has been Weisman’s trademark, and sees how that change of pace can help grow the Hawkeye offense.
“I think we have to be a team that has a lot of players who step in and do a lot of different things,’’ Bullock said. “Our best chance to win comes from when each of us understands our job, and tries to do that and not attempt to do the things we are not capable of doing. I think that’s going to be important for us the rest of the way.’’
Much like how 19 players have caught passes for Iowa this season, Bullock believes the depth the Hawkeyes have at running back can work to the team’s benefit in upcoming games.
“There is room for all of us on the field and the fresher our bodies are at a time of year when other guys are wearing down from a long season, the better things will be for us,’’ Bullock said. “We’ve got good backs. That hasn’t changed.’’
Ferentz said the challenge has been to find enough carries to let all of Iowa’s backs get into a rhythm.
“We feel like we have four backs we can win with, but it is tough to use that many in a close game,’’ Ferentz said. “We feel good about our backs and we’d like to get LeShun (Daniels) and Jordan (Canzeri) involved more, but that can be tough to do during a game. We haven’t been able to say this a lot of years, but we feel good about the depth we have at that position.’’