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Pat Harty: Despite defeat, Hawks inspire hope

[ 0 ] October 19, 2013 |

Hope doesn’t always come wrapped in a victory.

Sometimes, standing up to a giant and trading blows on his territory are enough to inspire hope.

Hope is what Iowa fans have to cling to at this point in the wake of Saturday’s 34-24 loss at fourth-ranked Ohio State, which extended its winning streak to 19 games under second-year coach Urban Meyer.

Whether you believe in moral victories or not, the fact that Iowa (4-3) didn’t wilt on a giant stage is cause for hope and some relief.

Next Saturday’s home game against Northwestern, which is battered, bruised and 0-3 in the Big Ten, now looks more winnable, if you dare say that about a game against the pesky Wildcats.

“I think this time of year a big part of football is mental, and it’s up to your ability to focus on a daily basis and utilize whatever opportunities are in front of you,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said on his post-game radio show. “The first thing we’ll have to do (Sunday) is correct some things.

“Certainly, it looked like from the sideline that some of the things that hurt us I think are very correctable and coachable. We just have to do a better job there. And then we’ve got to encourage our guys to continue to push forward and get better technique-wise and just understanding things. But I think we’re improving.”

Some pretty decent Iowa teams have gone to the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio, and been branded with a humiliating loss. The 1995 Iowa team, for example, finished 8-4 overall and had a star-studded cast of players that included Tim Dwight, Sedrick Shaw, Tavian Banks and Jared DeVries.

But it also trailed Ohio State 56-0 at halftime.

Iowa led the Buckeyes 17-10 at halftime Saturday, and did so by executing a clever game plan on offense that featured multiple tight end sets and quick, short passes.

Iowa’s 12-play opening scoring drive was a thing of beauty, both in design and execution. Ohio State seemed confused by the multiple tight end sets and Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis took advantage by having three different tight ends catch passes on the drive, including a 2-yard scoring strike to senior C.J. Fiedorowicz.

Beyond nit-picking, there wasn’t much wrong with Iowa’s performance during the first 15 minutes, which ended with the Hawkeyes leading 10-3 heading into the second quarter.

But then a problem that has festered throughout the season surfaced in the second quarter when Ohio State receiver Corey Brown slipped past the Iowa secondary and caught a wide open 58-yard touchdown pass. The back of Iowa’s defense was suspect coming into Saturday’s game and then showed why.

And yet, Iowa still led at halftime, which was a psychological victory in itself.

The difference ultimately came down to talent. And that’s where Iowa always comes up short against the Buckeyes.

Braxton Miller’s ability to extend drives by turning a broken play into a first down as a scrambling quarterback was probably the biggest factor in Iowa losing Saturday. It was the same thing in 2010 when former Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor deflated the Iowa defense by extending drives with his legs.

There is only so much coaching and scheming can do when a freakish athlete like Miller bolts from the pocket and gets in space against slower defenders.

“He’s a very unique player,” Ferentz said. “He can throw the football. And, obviously, he’s an outstanding runner.

“And there were times when it looked like we had things under control and had him contained and then he maneuvered. And to his credit, he made some really good plays.”

Greg Davis had his best day at the office on Saturday since taking over as the Iowa offensive coordinator last season. He confused the Buckeye defense with his play calling and he took advantage of Iowa’s depth at tight end.

Jake Rudock’s 85-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Jake Duzey in the third quarter truly was a doozy — and the perfect play call in that situation.

“We had been practicing it for a while,” Duzey said. “We knew it was there.”

It had been a while since Hawkeye fans enjoyed a halftime as much as they did Saturday, with the Hawkeyes leading by seven points and with Buckeye fans frustrated and booing.

Obviously, the question heading into the third quarter was could the Hawkeyes sustain it? Could they continue to win the battle in the trenches? Could they continue to contain Miller and keep Ohio State from using its superior speed?

No, proved to be the answer to all those questions.

With Miller, it was more a case of him saying, “Catch me if you can” and most of the time the Iowa defenders couldn’t catch him.

Ohio State’s first four possessions in the second half resulted in three consecutive touchdowns and a field goal.

Now it’s on to facing Northwestern, which in three weeks has gone from being undefeated and hosting ESPN Game Day to losing three games in a row. The Wildcats lost to Minnesota 20-17 Saturday at home and have looked lost on offense in each of the past two games while playing without injured quarterback Kain Colter and without injured running back Venric Mark, both of whom are nursing ankle injuries.

Colter was reportedly available in an emergency role Saturday. So with another week to heal, he could be ready in time to face Iowa. Colter isn’t Braxton Miller, but Colter has caused fits for the Iowa defense by extending plays on third down with his legs.

The Hawkeyes gained some momentum Saturday, even by losing. But that only works against Ohio State and it certainly won’t work against Northwestern.

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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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