IOWA CITY – First off, let’s start with the positives from Iowa’s 30-27 season-opening loss to Northern Illinois.
The temperature never reached 100 degrees on Saturday, although, that’s easy for me to say because I watched most of the game from the air-conditioned press box in Kinnick Stadium.
Senior Christian Kirksey performed like an all-Big Ten linebacker by making plays all over the field.
Iowa rushed for 202 yards and averaged nearly five yards per carry.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock passed for a respectable 256 yards in his first career start. He also scored on a 6-yard run in which he showed a nice burst around the end.
Senior kicker Mike Meyer converted both of his field-goal attempts, including one from 44 yards that gave Iowa a 27-20 lead with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter.
And junior-college receiver Damond Powell caught the first pass thrown to him in the second quarter for a 49-yard gain. It was strange watching Powell blow by his defender because Iowa receivers haven’t done much of that lately.
OK, enough with the positive reinforcement because the Hawkeyes still found another way to lose against a team from the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies, who finished 12-2 last season, might be the best team in the MAC, but that shouldn’t matter.
Iowa has no business losing to teams from the MAC, especially at home and especially in Kirk Ferentz’s 15th season as head coach. Ferentz’s teams used to find ways to win games like Saturday. But now they keep doing just the opposite.
The combination of turnovers – Iowa had three on Saturday – and broken assignments doomed the Hawkeyes.
“There were a lot of positive things that we saw out there on the field by a lot of different guys,” Ferentz said. “But the bottom line is we just didn’t make enough plays to be successful.
“To their credit, they capitalized and we didn’t.”
Ferentz is starting to sound like a broken record with his postgame explanations. But that’s what happens when your program is mired in a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season.
We kept hearing throughout the spring and summer from the players that this was a new season and that last season was in the past. We kept hearing that the coaching changes had breathed life into the program and that Greg Davis was more comfortable in his second season as offensive coordinator.
It did feel like a new season during the first two quarters Saturday.
But then the Hawkeyes reverted back to their old style of playing not to lose in the second half. One of the few times they did try to stretch the field in the second half came on a third-and-1 near midfield. But Rudock overthrew Powell on another deep fly pattern.
I’m all for opening things up on offense, but not on third-and-1 near midfield when you’re having so much success running between the tackles. It’s unlikely that the Huskies would’ve kept Iowa running back Mark Weisman, all 236 pounds of him, from gaining one yard in that situation.
Now we’ll never know.
Instead, fans are left to wonder if Saturday’s loss was the continuation of a downward spiral. Maybe the program isn’t at a crossroads anymore. Maybe it’s already crossed that point and is gaining steam headed down the wrong path.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow right now,” junior defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “We’ve been working so hard in the offseason. It’s like somebody ripped our heart out right now.”
The good news is that Iowa still has 11 games and two bye weeks to get better. The bad news is that Iowa still has 11 games and two bye weeks to get worse.
“What we choose to do with every day and every opportunity will determine the season,” Ferentz said. “We’ll watch tape. But from where I was standing I thought our guys played hard, competed hard. It wasn’t a matter of effort, not a matter of them not being invested.”
Ferentz blamed the loss mostly on turnovers, none more costly than Rudock’s interception late in the fourth quarter.
“Probably one we’d like to have back,” Ferentz said. “But that’s football. It was just a good play on their part and a bad play on ours.”
As for Kirksey, he continues to be one of Iowa’s top playmakers on defense, and in some way on offense, considering his 52-yard fumble return late in the first quarter was his third touchdown since the start of last season.
To put that in perspective, no Hawkeye receiver or tight end has caught more than two touchdown passes since the start of last season. It was hard not to feel sorry for Kirksey as he walked off the field because a performance like his on Saturday, which also included 14 tackles, should’ve been accompanied by a victory.
And though it’s way too early to write off this season, losing is starting to take an effect. That was apparent when Iowa sports information director Steve Roe sent an e-mail after the game announcing that tickets were still available for Iowa’s six remaining home games.
Losing on the field is bad enough. But it’s worse when it carries over to the ticket office.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football