Commentary: 4th-and-1 decision could cost Iowa bowl game

One yard.

That’s all Iowa needed to keep its offensive drive going with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Hawkeyes did have 4th down coming up, but it was just one yard to gain in order to potentially tie or take the lead. Iowa ran up to the line of scrimmage, ready to go.

Then, there was a stoppage in play.

An officials’ review on the previous play stopped the game momentarily, and Iowa rescinded its previous decision to go for it. Head coach Kirk Ferentz decided against it. The Hawkeyes punted and Indiana still led, 24-21.

The Hoosiers milked the clock on their ensuing possession and eventually won the game by the same score.

“We were going to rush up there and give it a go,” quarterback James Vandenberg said of the original 4th down call. “[Indiana] had a lot of guys in the middle of the field ready to go … I kind of took a step back to see what [the coaching staff] wanted me to do, then there was the review, and then coach Ferentz decided to punt.”

Vandenberg and the offense started off quickly, and the Black and Gold were up 14-3 at one stage in the game. As the momentum swung back and forth, Iowa’s offense gradually tiptoed its way out of the victory. The opportunity was there, but it was not seized.

Prime example: After a three-and-out by Indiana to open up the second half, Vandenberg and Co. drove the entire field, and found themselves within the 10-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal from the 12, Vandenberg’s pass to the corner of the end zone — intended for receiver Jordan Cotton — was intercepted.

“It’s a throw that can’t be made,” Vandenberg said. “That ball has to go through the back of the end zone. [Indiana] made a good call. That play is on me.”

The Big Ten is a weird conference this year — plain and simple. Iowa is still only two games back in the Legends Division with games against Purdue and Nebraska at home and Michigan on the road.

Nebraska and Michigan are tied for first place at 4-1 in the Legends, with Northwestern looming at 3-2. Iowa is now 2-3 in the B1G, 4-5 overall. Yet “still in the hunt,” so to speak.

But if opportunities are squandered early on in the game by the personnel on the field, albeit with an inexperienced offensive line, that’s not going to happen. In fact, Iowa now is in an extremely precarious position. For the Hawkeyes, a very unusual spot.

This is the first time Iowa lost to Indiana since 2007. This is the first time Iowa is under .500 since 2006.

Personnel failure — paired exponentially with questionable coaching decisions, including the decision by Ferentz not to go for it on 4th-and-1 inside of five minutes remaining in the game — leave the Hawkeyes marred.

No bowl game seems likely now. Funny how things can change so quickly in the Big Ten this fall, almost as quickly as a decision to not go for it on 4th-and-1.

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