Iowa City, Ia. — If this isn’t rock bottom for the Iowa football team under coach Kirk Ferentz, name another moment.
Iowa played a turnover-free game, committed just two penalties, recovered three fumbles — one for a touchdown — benefited repeatedly from opponent penalties and STILL lost to Purdue on Saturday.
At home …
… to a team that entered the game 0-5 in the Big Ten …
… for a fourth straight loss.
When the Boilermakers — a three-win team just moments earlier — sprinted across the field to celebrate a 46-yard, no-time-left field goal by Paul Griggs, though, Iowa had plunged to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten.
Forget 1999 and 2000 in the bottom-bouncing debate, since Ferentz spent those seasons cleaning up the Hayden Fry slide of the late-1990s. Since program health was restored in 2001, no Ferentz-led team has seemed as fragile as it appeared after a 27-24 loss to Purdue.
Even the 2007 team that finished 6-6, fell to Western Michigan and failed to play in a bowl avoided four losses at Kinnick in a season and won three in a row down the stretch before the Directional Michigan toe-stubber.
The thud came Saturday.
When asked after the game why Iowa seemed to be sliding rather than improving 10 weeks into the season, Ferentz grew agitated, shifting forward on his chair.
Then, pushed on the point of whether the team was getting worse, Ferentz shot back: “We’ve lost how many in a row, so what would that suggest?”
That’s rock bottom.
The reputation of Iowa football under Ferentz since win-loss rebirth in the early-2000s had been improvement as seasons marched on. Now, Iowa feels in free fall during a season that included a home loss to Central Michigan and the screech of the current four-game tumble.
Finding cracks in the emotional and psychological armor of Iowa’s even-keeled coach can be as tough as identifying the “tells” of a World Series of Poker finalist. Ferentz, though, seemed worn, drained and at a loss to explain what had just transpired on Saturday.
Where are the playmakers, defensive back Micah Hyde excluded?
Not on offense, where Iowa managed 18 yards rushing in the first half against Purdue — a team that entered the game 94th in the country against the run. And not on the Hyde-pardoned defense, where tackling has alarmingly become an optional activity.
In some ways, it’s almost impossible to know where to start identifying issues.
Running game? Passing game? Defensive pressure? The holes exist across the board. If Hyde (11 tackles and a 9-yard fumble return or a touchdown) and kicker Mike Meyer were removed from the roster, the race for team MVP might lack qualified vote-getters.
“What’s this feel like? It feels like a team that has just lost four games in a row,” said Dominic Alvis, a junior defensive lineman. “It feels somber. If feels crappy.”
Ferentz, though, clung to the opinion that talent exists.
“It’s not like this has just been a dog-crap team,” said Ferentz, defiantly arguing that a 2-0 Big Ten start (Minnesota and Michigan State) showed that ability lives in the locker room. “You want to paint that picture, I’m not buying that.”
How out of sync are things right now, though, at Kinnick Stadium? Even the military flyover missed the mark, with the F-18s roaring past long after the last note of the National Anthem had sounded.
The agonizing extended beyond the stadium walls, too. On Twitter, former Iowa lineman Bryan Bulaga of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers bemoaned from afar about Iowa’s offensive struggles.
Everyone knows this is likely the youngest, greenest team in Ferentz’s 14 seasons. That explanation, though as true now as it was in September, wears thin when 10 games hit the rearview mirror and the calendar flips to November.
“We’re not going to get any free agent players coming in this weekend,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to play with the guys that we have.”
Want to argue that this isn’t a bad football team? Ask this: How could someone describe it as anything else?
When rock meets bottom, few enjoy the sound.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller