EVANSTON, Ill. Eight games into the season, and Iowa still hasn’t figured out the formula for consistent football.
The offense sputtered through most of Saturday’s 28-17 loss at Northwestern, and the Wildcats rushed for 349 yards – the most rushing yards against the Hawkeyes since Indiana got 433 in 2000.
“We’re 2/3 the way through our season,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We have one four-game season left.”
However, if 4-4 Iowa can’t find 60-minute momentum starting next Saturday at Indiana (2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network), then it’s home for the holidays for the first time since 2007.
“We need to play smarter,” linebacker James Morris said.
Iowa’s Big Ten Conference record fell to 2-2, while Northwestern improved to 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Legends Division.
“Disappointing,” coach Kirk Ferentz said at least twice after the game. “We’ll get back to work and see what we can do about next week.”
Preparation will include possibly finding a backup running back after Mark Weisman left the game with an undisclosed injury late in the second quarter.
“He’s injured,” Ferentz said, not expounding on his short answer. “That’s why he came out of the game.”
Damon Bullock celebrated his return to the lineup with 107 yards on 22 carries. Otherwise, highlights were as sparse as Iowa victories at Ryan Field, where at least half the 44,121 fans were in black and gold.
“We just didn’t execute the plan well,” receiver Keenan Davis said.
This time, the offense wasn’t the problem on a brisk, sunny afternoon. Quarterback James Vandenberg, albeit still sporadic, completed 24 of 38 passes for 214 yards when not avoiding Northwestern’s persistent pass rush that resulted in three sacks and many broken plays.
This loss was on the defense – from start to finish.
“They’ve got players that you just can’t contain,” cornerback Micah Hyde said.
The Wildcats led 28-3 after a woeful Iowa start to the third quarter that included a blocked punt, a sack, dropped Hawkeye passes, and two Northwestern touchdowns all within 5 minutes after halftime.
“They’re explosive guys,” Iowa defensive lineman Luis Trinca-Pasat said. “They made big plays. We had a difficult time trying to stop them. The score shows that.”
Primarily, Iowa had trouble stopping two players – quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. That 1-2 duo combined for 328 yards and three touchdowns on a combined 42 rushes. It’s the most yards by two players against Iowa since Minnesota’s Marion Barber III and Laurence Morony combined for 323 yards on 48 carries.
“We wanted to make (Colter) try to beat us throwing,” Morris said of the plan against Colter. “We weren’t able to do that.”
The Hawkeyes paid a heavy price throughout the game.
“When you can dominate the line of scrimmage. . .that’s always a good thing,” Colter said.
Still, Morris was surprised that Northwestern rushed for so many yards, “but I guess I knew they weren’t throwing it,” he said.
Iowa still is having fundamental problems 2/3 into the season – like three delay of game penalties Saturday.
“In two of those situations, I thought we had time to get the ball snapped,” Ferentz said. “We just didn’t. That kind of fit in with the way things were going.”
Two-thirds into the season, the Hawkeyes continue to have dropped passes. They continue to run third-down routes just shy of first downs.
“We must have had five or six drops,” tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said. “To keep drives moving, we’ve got to execute.”
Northwestern was so good Saturday that Mark quickly turned a first down at the Wildcats 1-yard line in the second quarter into a first down at the Iowa 26 after a 72-yard run. John Wienke pinned Northwestern with a punt that Hyde downed, and on the next play, Mark ran his team out of trouble.
“He had an 80-yarder last week (against Nebraska),’ Ferentz said.
He caught Iowa in a stunt.
“I followed the fullback, and they ended up running the ball inside,” said Morris, Iowa’s middle linebacker. “We didn’t have anybody left.”
So now, Iowa must go 2-2 in its final four games to prevent being home while 70 other teams participate in bowl games.
It’s an up-hill battle, with remaining games at Indiana, at home against Purdue, at Michigan, and at home against Nebraska.
“We still have four games left,” Fiedorowicz said. “The way the Big Ten’s going this year, you definitely can’t count us out.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football