COLUMBUS, Ohio — This is a corner-turner. Yes, even in a loss.
You can’t fake it in The Horseshoe. Smoke and mirrors don’t cut it for four quarters on the turf of the scarlet and gray.
The oversized scoreboard on the south side of Ohio Stadium showed that Iowa lost to No. 4 Ohio State 34-24. It’s what the scoreboard stopped short of saying that should tell everyone more about Hawkeye football.
Playing Ohio State to a tie as the game wandered into the fourth quarter — the same Buckeye team that showed up for kickoff with a major-college best 18 wins in a row — says something bankable about the guys wearing the other helmets.
Is winning all the matters? That answer, almost always, is yes — but not 100 percent of the time. It depends if a team is coming off a four-win season that anchored an ugly seven-game losing streak.
The Iowa team that wilted during the final half of 2012 lacked the pistons and precision to generate the faintest whiff-of-a-chance in a game like this that unfolded in front of more than 105,000 howling at max volume from all angles.
Put the brakes on one discussion about Iowa’s football fortunes: It might not translate to many wins this season with the schedule that remains, even if Northwestern suddenly appears vulnerable and Purdue awaits.
Tap the accelerator, though, on this small but real slice of enthusiasm: This Iowa team bears absolutely no resemblance to the group that lost to Indiana and Purdue during a free-fall a season ago.
“Coach told us at the end of the game that we’ve improved, but we’re not quite there yet,” Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock said.
Those who follow Iowa’s program had waited for an honest-to-helmets sign that the stock value for the Hawkeyes was a buy or sell. Part of the answer arrived in a gutsy performance that simply ran out of gas.
“This is one of the toughest environments in football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz, though, refused to buy into the confidence-building nature of any loss, no matter the circumstances.
That, too, is what you want your coach to say — even if it’s not completely true.
“You don’t get prizes for playing a good first half,” Ferentz said. “… The objective’s to win, as long as they keep score.”
To understand what’s going on with Iowa football these days, true answers rest someplace other than Western Michigan, Missouri State, Minneosta or even Michigan State at home. The clues reveal themselves on cold, wet days in Ohio Stadium.
Iowa led the majority of the game. Think about that for a second. Who thought that was possible when this season started?
You only contend in The ’Shoe with equal doses of ability and execution. The inner-workings of the loss to the Buckeyes, winners of 19 straight, was the most encouraging sign that last season is buried history.
A statement was made. And it was a statement the program sorely needed, two weeks after everyone but the equipment manager was bruised and bloodied in a loss to Michigan State.
Iowa has questions to address, starting with a defense that didn’t force Ohio State to punt in a game for the first time since 2008, gave up nearly three-dozen points and found no late answers for ankle-breaking quarterback Braxton Miller.
Here’s the thing, though, about Miller: You think you have him cornered, like a villain in an old Western behind a canyon bolder, until you don’t. Stop him once, twice, a dozen times in a row. At some point, though, Braxton guts the defense with a twisting run that seemingly covers a couple of zip codes.
Iowa, however, stayed poised and in the hunt for longer than almost any honest analyst could have expected.
The opening drive of the game was the team’s best of the season, a nifty 12-play, 80-play march where Jake Rudock hooked up with three tight ends — including a trio of passes to sudden star Jake Duzey.
Speaking of Duzey, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore, snatched a thread-the-needle throw from Rudock over his head in the third quarter for an 85-yard touchdown that tied it 24-24.
Ohio State wore down Iowa with body blow after body blow by Miller as the second half plodded along. The Hawkeyes, however, showed glimpses of steps forward in so many ways — starting with hearts and guts.
“There’s definitely progress, but it’s tough to lose,” Hawkeye running back Mark Weisman said. “We’ve got to move fast.”
I get the you-have-to-win argument. I really do.
On Saturday, though, it felt like a lot more of those are possible moving ahead than most thought.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football