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Hawkeyes feel urgency to win after bitter loss

[ 15 ] October 30, 2011 |

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Cover your eyes, Iowa football fans. The following isn’t what you mapped out for this season.

You predicted your Hawkeyes to win three of their final five regular-season games on last week’s HawkCentral.com poll.

You picked Iowa to finish tied with Michigan for second behind Michigan State in the Legends Division. You thought the Hawkeyes would lose against the Spartans and Nebraska, and you figured the Cornhuskers to finish fourth at 4-4.

You also thought — overwhelmingly — that Iowa would win Saturday at Minnesota, and that’s why 2,340 of 2,449 voters were among those who went to bed Saturday wondering what hit them.

Something happened on the road to six-win bowl eligibility, something like a 22-21 loss against a team that had defeated just one of its first seven opponents.

“I’m a senior; this isn’t what I planned,” cornerback Shaun Prater said. “We have four more games. Where the season goes depends on how we play, and as seniors and leaders, we have to step up and guide these guys through.”

If Iowa can’t beat a Minnesota team that had been outscored 144-31 while dropping its first three conference games, then the Hawkeyes are likely to be underdogs during the remainder of the season — at home against 13th-ranked Michigan at 11 a.m. Saturday, at home against No. 15 Michigan State on Nov. 12, at Purdue on Nov. 19, and at ninth-rated Nebraska on Nov. 25.

That’s three rated opponents, and a game on the field of an opponent where the Hawkeyes have won just once during their last six visits.

“I felt this morning when I woke up that we had a chance to win any of the four or five games on our schedule and we could lose any of the five,” Ferentz said after Saturday’s loss. “And I still feel the same way, so the season isn’t over.”

Improvement must happen quickly.

“We have to grow and we have to grow fast,” center James Ferentz said after Iowa’s records fell to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Legends Division. “We have four great opponents the next four weeks.

“Basically, how much can we improve is what it comes down to.”

Iowa has defeated Northwestern and Indiana, teams with a combined 1-9 conference record. The Hawkeyes’ remaining four opponents are a combined 11-7, starting with 3-1, 7-1 Michigan.

“We’ve got to win, and it’s got to start now,” Prater said.

The Hawkeyes lost for a number of reasons Saturday, including scoring just three times on six possessions inside the 20-yard line, not protecting quarterback James Vandenberg, missing two field goals, failing to contain shifty quarterback MarQueis Gray, and coming up with nothing but air on the Gophers’ late onside kick.

After pulling within 21-16 with 8 minutes 22 seconds to play, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill noticed Iowa had its normal kickoff alignment on the field.

“We decided 30 seconds before we did it,” he said. “We needed to make something happen.”

The kick popped in the direction of reserve running back Jason White, who was swarmed by at least three players. Minnesota recovered and the rest is history. Twelve plays and 59 yards later, Iowa went to the locker room with its fifth regular-season road loss in a row, and bowl hopes potentially dashed.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said after a second loss in a row against the Gophers. “You have to keep playing, right up until the end of the game, and we didn’t make the plays we needed to make in the fourth quarter. We have to get better.”

The last time Iowa failed to go a bowl game was 2007.

“Now is the biggest part of the season,” said tailback Marcus Coker, whose 252 rushing yards Saturday was the third-best single-game performance by an Iowa player. “We can’t let this loss ruin what we can still accomplish.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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