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Harty: Northwestern was a team loss

[ 0 ] October 27, 2012 |

EVANSTON, Ill. – At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, the Iowa football team is getting worse as the season drags on.

It’s still premature to call Iowa a bad team, but things are certainly pointing in that direction based on Saturday’s 28-17 loss to Northwestern.

Good teams find different ways to prevail, whereas teams that aren’t very good find different ways to lose.

The same Iowa team that was shredded by Penn State’s passing attack during a 38-14 beat-down last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium got torched on the ground by Northwestern, surrendering 349 rushing yards. That’s the most rushing yards that Iowa has allowed since the 2000 season.

It’s amazing, or disturbing depending on your point of view, that Northwestern won the game by double-digits despite only passing 10 times. But why risk throwing interceptions when you don’t have to?

Why risk passing on third-down when all your quarterback has to do is scramble for a first down?

You knew Iowa was in trouble when Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter converted two third-and-long situations on the opening drive of the game. Northwestern faced a third-and-9 at its own 48-yard line when Colter eluded several defenders for a 20-yard gain.

He then scored five plays later on a 5-yard run, his first of three touchdowns on the day.

Iowa had no answer for Colter or for Northwestern running back Venric Mark. They finished with 166 and 162 rushing yards, respectively. It marked the first time that Iowa has allowed two players to rush for over 150 yards in the same game since Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney accomplished the feat for Minnesota in 2004.

“He’s just a very explosive athlete,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Colter, who also doubles as a receiver. “Both him and Mark, they’re quick, smart and instinctive. He did a good job against us last year.

“I’m not totally surprised how they played it today. I don’t know what their plan was going in, but they were having good success with that.”

Iowa knew what to expect from Northwestern on offense, and yet still couldn’t stop Colter and his slippery cohorts.

It was hard to keep track of how many times Colter and Mark made an Iowa defender look silly in space because it happened so often.

It also was hard to watch the Iowa offense, especially when it shifted to its hurry-up approach in the fourth quarter, because it looked so discombobulated. The fact that Iowa was penalized for delay of game while running the hurry-up offense in the fourth quarter is inexcusable and sort of a microcosm of this season.

One of the few bright spots for Iowa on Saturday was the return of sophomore running back Damon Bullock, who rushed for 107 yards and caught five passes for 41 yards. However, his return came at the expense of Mark Weisman, who suffered yet another injury setback on Saturday.

It was easy to point to senior quarterback James Vandenberg as the main reason why Iowa got blasted by Penn State last Saturday. But you couldn’t pin the Northwestern loss solely on Vandenberg’s shoulders because he actually made some nice throws against the Wildcats.

This was a team loss any way you slice it. The offense, defense and special teams all contributed equally to the misery.

And now here we are two-thirds of the way through the regular season and the Iowa players are still talking about how they have to learn from their mistakes. They’re still saying that most of the problems can be traced to a lack of execution. And they’re still saying the only solution is to get back to work at practice.

In other words, they’re saying what Ferentz expects them to say after a loss.

“There aren’t many options,” Ferentz said. “You go back to work tomorrow and you get back on your feet. That’s the only choice that we have.”

The problem with that response is that fans and members of the media are getting fed up with hearing the same explanations after a loss. Fans are tired of watching Iowa be out-performed and they’re frustrated with hearing the same reasons for why it happened afterwards.

Imagine the level of frustration should Iowa lose at lowly Indiana next Saturday (2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). A game that looked very winnable just a few weeks ago now looks like a daunting task with the Hoosiers showing signs of life, including winning at Illinois on Saturday.

Iowa junior linebacker James Morris has lost more games in the past two weeks than he did during his final three years at Solon High School when his teams went undefeated. You can tell that the losing is starting to wear on Morris.

“We’re down right now, but what can you do about it?” Morris said. “We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and play football.”

Morris then went on to say that there aren’t any quitters on the Iowa team, nor is the team at risk of being divided.

This Iowa team is more at risk of being home for the holidays.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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