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Harty: This loss isn’t on the Hawkeye defense

[ 0 ] November 2, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — While it’s true that the Iowa football team is turning into the Big Ten’s version of former Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Carlos Marmol with how it can’t close games, Saturday’s 28-9 loss to Wisconsin had as much to do with how Iowa started the game.

You don’t beat the Wisconsin Badgers, or any good football team for that matter, by just making field goals. Iowa had three drives in the first quarter that started in Wisconsin territory, but only resulted in three points.

Iowa also drove to the Wisconsin 3-yard line in the second quarter, but had to settle for another Mike Meyer field goal after a false-start penalty on third down cost the Hawkeyes five yards.

Game over.

“If you’re going to play a team like that, when you get down in there, you have to come away with some points,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Field goals are better than nothing. But they’re not going to win for you in a game like this.”

You knew at some point that the Wisconsin offense would ignite, especially with the Iowa offense sputtering on the ground and in the air. Iowa had six offensive possessions Saturday in which it ran only three plays before having to punt.

Combine that with Wisconsin’s size and strength on the offensive line and it was only a matter of time before the Iowa defense collapsed. That time came in the fourth quarter when the Badgers ground out 118 of their 218 rushing yards.

Iowa led Wisconsin 3-0 after the first quarter, and yet it felt as if the Hawkeyes were letting the game slip away.

Iowa was outscored 21-3 in the second half and it would be easy to place much of the blame on the Hawkeye defense for surrendering more than 200 yards rushing for the third consecutive game.

Those who watched the game know better, though.

You can’t hang this loss on the Hawkeye defense. It played well enough for three quarters to keep Iowa within striking defense before ultimately wearing down.

“They really played well,” Ferentz said of his defense. “It seemed like for about 50 minutes, we were really playing the way you want to. We did give up the one drive in the first half. But when you play a team like that, they’re going to get some, too. They’re a good football team. But I thought we were competing hard and playing against a team that’s got gaudy statistics in terms of yardage and points per game. And we were competing very well with them.

“So I don’t think we’re that far away. It’s hardly a hopeless case here. But we still have to finish a game on defense.”

Speaking of things that Iowa has to do, winning next Saturday’s game at lowly Purdue now tops that list. All four of Iowa’s losses this season came against teams that are either still undefeated or have two or fewer losses.

Purdue, on the other hand, has only one victory this season and hasn’t been competitive in most of its games. So Iowa would have no excuse for losing to the Boilermakers for a second year in a row unless, of course, the team is starting to unravel down the stretch for the second year in a row.

There were times Saturday when the Iowa offense reverted back to last season, when it could hardly do anything right.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock was inaccurate with many of his throws before leaving the game in the second half with a minor knee injury. And when he found his target, the Iowa receivers either dropped the pass or did little after catching it.

Connor Kornbrath punted seven times for Iowa, while Mark Weisman had only nine rushing attempts. It’s usually not a good sign when a team’s leading rusher barely has more attempts than the punter.

Saturday’s game was another reminder that Iowa is closer to being an average team than a good team. That’s a step up from last season when the Hawkeyes were dreadful at times while finishing 4-8. But it’s not as big a step as the four-game winning streak earlier this season might have suggested.

Saturday’s game also exposed the Iowa offensive line as being average against good opponents. The same thing happened in the 26-14 loss to Michigan State on Oct.<TH>5 at Kinnick Stadium.

“They just outplayed us,” Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff said of the Badgers. “They had a great game plan for us and they out-executed us. We just have to keep working at finishing a full game.”

Starting better would help, too.

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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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