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Clock ticking on Hawkeyes’ season

[ 19 ] October 31, 2011 |

MINNEAPOLIS — The players and coaches on the Iowa football team take things one day, one week, one game, at a time.

But fans don’t. Neither does the media. And the future looks bleak.

Iowa heads into the final month of the regular season fresh off a devastating 22-21 loss to Minnesota, searching for answers.

“A real tough loss,” senior defensive end Broderick Binns said. “I thought we played well; not well enough to win the game.”

Not well enough to beat one of the bottom-dwellers among all BCS conference teams. A team with virtually no chance to make a bowl game.

And the loss means Iowa — which has gotten bowl-eligible for 10 straight seasons under coach Kirk Ferentz — might have a hard road to get a bowl game itself.

The next two weeks No. 13 Michigan (7-1) and No. 15 Michigan State (6-2) come to Iowa City, then it’s back on the road — where Iowa has lost five straight — for trips to Purdue (4-4) and No. 9 Nebraska (7-1).

The Hawkeyes may be the underdogs in all four games.

“I don’t pay attention to the underdog, over dog, whatever it is,” senior cornerback Shaun Prater said. “The key word is move forward.

“We’ve got to move forward and take on whoever we’ve got next week.”

Iowa (5-3, 2-2) may not be ready for what is coming. Through Saturday, Iowa’s strength of schedule ranked 112th (out of 120) among all schools in the FBS of the NCAA. That’s the worst for any BCS conference school.

And the upcoming strength of schedule for the Hawkeyes? It ranks sixth.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz bristled Saturday after the game when a reporter suggested they were heading into the teeth of their schedule.

“Those are your words,” Ferentz said. “I felt this morning when I woke up, we had a chance to win any of the fives games on our schedule, and lose any of the five. I still feel the same.

“The season is not over. We’ve got four games left. Feel bad today and tomorrow and get back to work.”

Its been a frustrating season for improvement. Iowa held Minnesota to just 3-of-11 on third-down conversions, a huge improvement in one of its worst problem areas.

And then Iowa goes 3-of-6 in red zone scores/chances offensively after coming into Saturday leading the Big Ten.

“We knew we didn’t execute in the red zone,” junior quarterback James Vandenberg said. “You’ve got to put the ball in the end zone and score touchdowns when you put together drives like that, and we weren’t able to do it.”

Sophomore kicker Michael Meyer had hit 12-of-14 field goals, including 8-for-8 under 40 yards. On Friday, he was named a semifinalist for the Groza Award.

On Saturday, Meyer shanked a 24-yarder and also missed one from 43 yards.

“They stepped it up in the red zone; we couldn’t finish,” sophomore receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “They came out on top in critical moments.”

Vandenberg, who looked like Superman with his fourth quarter drives against Pittsburgh, looked like Bizarro with his chance Saturday.

“Obviously, in the fourth quarter, they just did a better job of moving the chains than we did,” junior center James Ferentz said. “We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to grow fast. The biggest thing is execution in critical areas of the game.”

Iowa has stars. Sophomore Marcus Coker ranks ninth nationally in rushing (121.1 yards per game). Senior receiver Marvin McNutt is 12th nationally in receiving yards per game (107.3). Vandenberg is 15th in passing efficiency (155.21).

Defensively linebacker James Moris ranks 10th in tackles per game (10.86).

“It was a team loss,” senior linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “You can’t point to any one person. No one person lost it for us.”

There was plenty of blame to share Saturday. Much of it was focused on a defense that allowed Minnesota to drive twice in the fourth quarter without much resistance.

Ferentz was asked why the defense was not improving. “I can’t answer that right now.”

Junior cornerback Micah Hyde was asked the same thing. “I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Morris gave it a try. “We got exposed for what we are in certain areas,” he said. “The good thing is, coming from this, now we know what we have to improve on.”

The clock is ticking on 2011. But there’s still time.

“Wins and losses will take care of themselves,” Vandenberg said. “We just need to improve.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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