IOWA CITY, Ia. – Suddenly, Iowa’s bowl outlook again appears grim.
A week after sharing the Big Ten’s Legends Division lead with Michigan, the Hawkeyes now find themselves scrambling to meet postseason eligibility with an offense weakened by a faulty passing attack and injuries.
Their hunt for two more victories among the remaining five games — and the season-long quest to find a consistent offense — starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at Northwestern, then continues Nov. 3 at Indiana.
The journey returns to Iowa City Nov. 10 against Purdue, and then it’s back on the road Nov. 17 against Michigan, before finishing the regular season on Thanksgiving’s Black Friday against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium.
Two victories needed to reach a fifth consecutive bowl game.
“Don’t read newspapers. Don’t go online. Don’t talk to anybody in class,” linebacker James Morris said of how he will focus this week.
With an offense that continues to sputter, Morris and his defensive buddies must be at their best Saturday against versatile quarterback Kain Colter and shifty running back Venric Mark running a spread offense that rivals in tempo to what Penn State did last Saturday.
They must play a perfect game in a stadium where Iowa has a 2-7 record since winning nine consecutive matchups between 1975 and 1993.
The Hawkeyes must be on their defensive A-game or else risk another whipping like the 38-14 blasting Penn State hung on them Saturday in Iowa City. In that game, the Nittany Lions turned a 24-0 halftime lead into 38-0 before Jordan Cotton returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
Iowa enters Saturday’s game with a record of 2-1 in the conference and 4-3 overall after a loss so lopsided in the fourth quarter that coach Kirk Ferentz actually considered doing what some fans have suggested.
He said he thought momentarily about replacing starting senior quarterback James Vandenberg with redshirt freshman backup Jake Rudock.
Ferentz didn’t, however, so the Hawkeyes’ potential 2013 starting quarterback still hasn’t played this season.
“I’m one of the leaders on the offense and the guy calling a lot of the shots,” said Vandenberg, who directs a passing offense that ranks 101st out of 120 nationally with an average of 189.0 yards per game. “The offense is a reflection on me and the other 10 guys.”
That offense will be missing starting left tackle Brandon Scherff, who is out the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery Sunday on his lower right leg. When the Hawkeyes run the ball well, it’s usually to the left. Saturday, it will be Nolan MacMillan on that edge.
Also sidelined against Northwestern is starting right guard Andrew Donnal. He, too, injured his right leg against Penn State, and will be replaced by Austin Blythe.
Tailback Mark Weisman, the Hawkeyes’ top rusher, is a potential starter Saturday after a week-old ankle sprain limited him to five carries and 9 yards against Penn State.
“It’s good,” Weisman said after the game. “I didn’t take any steps backwards. That’s a good sign.”
SATURDAY’S GAME INFO
Who: Iowa (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) at Northwestern (6-2, 2-2)
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Time/TV: 11 a.m., ESPN2
Line: Northwestern by 6
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football