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Iowa Football: Searching for Context, Part 1

By Sam Kienzle

After last Saturday’s game at Penn State, most Hawkeye fans chose not to look at the statistics of the game.  Three points is typically reflective of the team’s numbers.  Three points means little went right—a disappointing and mildly surprising number from a team that was somewhat brown-nosed by the eastern Iowa media the week before, when James Vandenberg threw for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns against the monstrous Warhawks from Louisiana Monroe—switching on the high-octane hype engine for Iowa’s new, shiny “up-tempo” offense.

Finally we got 'em. (AP Photo/Gene Puskar)

It wasn’t all bad.  Despite being bullied on the turf for 231 rushing yards, Iowa’s defense did what most teams have done this year to Penn State: straighten their spines in the red zone.  Giving up thirteen points—even to a neurotic, self-guessing offense like Penn State’s—is admirable.  By the end of the game, however, something seemed off.  The final score felt more deflating than other losses.  That feeling lacked at halftime when the score was seemingly vintage Iowa vs. Penn State, locked at 6-3.  At game’s end, something had struck me: this game was decided by more than a touchdown.

For the first time since 2007, Iowa had lost a game by more than a touchdown.  It wasn’t just the margin of defeat, but also the fact that Iowa was held without a touchdown since the same year.  To think that the amazing streak of three seasons in which Iowa was competitive in every game it played had come to and end was kind of sad, like a chapter of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure coming to a close, and to a certain degree that revelation has created an anxiety about the 2011 Hawkeye team.

Could this be another 6-6 season?  Is Iowa’s offense doomed to stink? Despite last Saturday’s gut-shot, the answer is ‘no.’ Penn State’s defense came in with impressive rankings and delivered against the Hawkeyes.  Perhaps it was just us Iowans, who had witnessed the 8-2 record against the Nittany Lions in Ferentz’s time, who assumed Vandenberg would have his way and another Adrian Clayborn would pick up a live ball and shock the White House. I admit that I believed in such grandeur before the game started.  But these are the truths of last Saturday’s game, and one must nod and accept them to put the loss to the Lions in context—some may even offer hope:

  • – Penn State wanted to win this game more than Iowa, and had the defense to do it.
  • – Iowa still has problems with its defense.  First we thought it was pass defense (it still is), but it is becoming clear that big, senior offensive lines can suppress Iowa’s pass rush and open up rushing lanes—further stressing the undersized linebackers.
  • – With new division play, this game was more of a pride-shaking loss for fans, but overall is less impactful than a division loss. (Even without division play last year, Wisconsin dropped its first conference game and made it to the Rose Bowl by winning out, lending credence to the reality that it is not how you start, but it is how you finish.  Iowa has much to play for.)
  • – Iowa’s next road game is against Minnesota.  At the moment, Minnesota is playing comically bad football, giving up 35 points per game.  Unsurprisingly, they are 1-5.  They also have a head coach who is having seizures during and after games, further distracting the team during a tumultuous rebuilding period.  There is nothing funny about that.  It is a dark time to be a Gopher fan.
  • – Iowa has four of its next five games at home.  They Hawkeyes play their first division game against nemesis Northwestern tomorrow, under the lights and stripes.  Northwestern will not be intimidated, as they have won the past three games at Kinnick. Comparing Northwestern’s defense to Penn State’s, however…
  • – There is no comparison.  Northwestern’s defense can be bombed on.  Unless James Vandenberg has walking pneumonia, expect good things.

Please see: “Iowa Football: Searching for Context, Part 2” for a Northwestern preview and other football musings!  It is available on the KRUI main web page and sports page


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