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Rick Brown: Opening loss not without progress

[ 0 ] September 3, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – I drove past Kinnick Stadium Tuesday. It’s still standing. So there’s one positive thing to come out of Saturday’s season-opening loss to Northern Illinois.

In truth, the positives outweighed the negatives for an Iowa football team scrambling to regain traction and be a player in the Big Ten Conference again.

“I have a good feeling about this team,” senior linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “There were a lot of good things on film we can build on. I’m really excited about this team.”

Former coach turned Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo tweeted that Iowa is “much improved from last year. Let the season play out.”

The BTN’s Tom Dienhart even moved Iowa into his bowl projections list, saying its performance in the opener “gave me some faith in this Hawkeyes team.”

Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes might be OK after all. (David Scrivner/Press-Citizen photo)

Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes might be OK after all. (David Scrivner/Press-Citizen photo)

That ray of sunshine was of little consolation to senior linebacker James Morris.

“Does it make me feel any better?” Morris said. “No. Do I dwell on the fact that we’re 0-1? No. I’m just worried about our team and how we’re preparing and getting ready to play this game.”

Missouri State comes to town Saturday. Their coach, native son Terry Allen, is a true Iowa nice guy. His team, 0-1 after at season-opening home loss to Northwestern State of Louisiana, is a perfect candidate to snap the Hawkeyes’ seven-game losing streak.

Progress is nice, like the steel beams rising from the ground just northwest of Kinnick Stadium that will be Iowa’s ultra-modern Football Operations Center.

Progress is this — Iowa’s 458 yards of total offense against Northern Illinois was more than any game last season, as were the 256 yards passing. The 202 rushing yards were eclipsed just once, when Iowa ran for 215 in a stunning loss to Central Michigan. The 24 first downs were more than all but one game last season, a 25 first down performance in the season opener against Northern Iowa.

But progress only goes so far. At some point you’ve got to, as the late Al Davis was fond of saying, “Just win, baby.”

That is no great revelation to Ferentz, his coaches or any of his players.

“The next step is, you have to learn how to win,” Ferentz said.

That has been an issue, and Saturday’s game was just one more example. Up at halftime 24-17, the Hawkeyes had Northern Illinois on the ropes and couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. A series of offensive miscues the second half, when the Hawkeyes converted just one of seven third-down plays, and a fake punt turned a boisterous crowd somber by game’s end.

Those third-down plays and three turnovers, were too much to overcome and clouded the progress that was obvious on the field.

“We’re still hungry,” senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said. “I think we’re a very good team, on offense and defense.”

There’s an old football adage that says a team makes the most improvement from Game 1 to Game 2.

“I think there’s a lot of truth in that, yeah,” Ferentz said. “But it’s not just going to happen. You have to make it happen.”

Over the past seven games, that’s been easier said than done.

Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeyes football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter (@ByRickBrown).

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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