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Pat Harty: Hawkeyes miss key opportunity

[ 0 ] September 7, 2013 |

Saturday’s win almost felt like a loss for the Iowa football team — because it was in one respect.

The Hawkeyes finally ended their seven-game losing streak by defeating Missouri State 28-14 before an announced crowd of 64,201 at Kinnick Stadium. But they also blew what seemed like a golden opportunity to galvanize their disgruntled fans by failing to blow away a team that is expected to be mediocre at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

Fans were hoping and expecting a lopsided victory in which Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz could’ve emptied his bench by late in the third quarter with the outcome firmly in hand.

But instead, they got a game that was too close for comfort with Iowa having to hang on to defeat a Missouri State squad that lost at home to Northwestern State — not Northwestern — 23-17 in the Aug. 29 season opener.

“A lot of things we need to clean up right now,” Ferentz said. “There were a lot of good things out there, too. But mistakes we made helped hide it.”

That’s a very fair and accurate assessment.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz watches his team Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (David Scrivner photo)

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz watches his team Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (David Scrivner photo)

The losing streak finally is buried on a day in which the Iowa offense had 489 yards, including 180 rushing yards from junior bruiser Mark Weisman. But many questions still remain because you could argue that Iowa performed better while losing to Northern Illinois 30-27 in its season opener than it did Saturday.

This was supposed to be the one game on Iowa’s 2013 schedule in which fans could exhale and expect a comfortable margin of victory. Some fans might’ve even gone as far as to think that backup quarterback C.J. Beathard would play Saturday in mop-up duty, assuming they remember how that works.

“That’s just kind of college football,” Ferentz said when asked if he was concerned about the narrow margin of victory. “And I told our team the same thing. If you watch college football, that’s the nature of the game.”

Missouri State was supposed to be the ideal warmup in preparation for next Saturday’s showdown against Iowa State in Ames, where Iowa is 2-5 under Ferentz.

And who knows, maybe it’ll prove to be just that.

“You don’t want to make mistakes on the field, but it might have been a little bit of a reality check for us like not thinking we can come in and just blow them out,” junior strong safety Johnny Lowdermilk said. “I don’t think of any of us thought that. But I thought we came out a little slow. We have to come out faster and play better.”

You would’ve thought that Missouri State was victorious based on the mood of its head coach following Saturday’s game. West High graduate Terry Allen enjoyed being back in his hometown — but enjoyed watching his team put a scare into the Hawkeyes much more.

“We have 10 more games to win,” Allen said. “If we can improve on the effort we had today, we can win a lot of those games.”

This was one of those rare situations where the losing team gained more confidence than the winning team. But that’s the risk with playing opponents that are considered vastly inferior.

Senior linebacker James Morris was about as subdued as you can be after ending a losing streak that lasted almost 11 months — Iowa’s most recent victory before Saturday came Oct.13, 2012, when it defeated Michigan State 19-16 in double-overtime in East Lansing, Mich.

Morris was pleased with winning, partly because he doesn’t have to answer questions about being mired in a losing streak anymore.
But his mood hardly was celebratory.

“Why was it so close?” Morris said. “There are a lot of reasons. I could give a 30-minute speech on why.”

Any speech on why Iowa struggled Saturday probably should start with the 11 penalties for 100 yards. There also was Mike Meyer’s missed field goal from 33 yards, several dropped passes and Connor Kornbrath only averaging 37.2 yards on five punts.

Ferentz voiced his concern about the kicking game and about his team’s inability to finish drives.

“Moving the ball is one thing,” Ferentz said. “But you’ve got to finish drives.”

Saturday’s game was yet another reminder that the Iowa football team is a slow — and not always a steady — work in progress. The offense is more cohesive and productive than last season. But second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis still has work to do in order to gain the trust and admiration of the fans.

Saturday’s victory was a step in the right direction, but not enough to convince fans that Iowa will stay in that direction.

STATS: Iowa 28, Missouri State 14

VIDEO: Postgame reaction from Ferentz, players

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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