IOWA CITY, Iowa – You can see it on their faces. Frustration is wearing them down.
These Hawkeyes began working towards their goals in January. They’ve fallen short of their championship dreams. It’s taken a toll.
Akrum Wadley isn’t his usual fun-loving self. Nathan Bazata the campos is quiet during this holiday week so he doesn’t have to hear the negativity. Josey Jewell talks about getting better only to realize there’s only one regular season game remaining.
For that senior trio, Friday’s contest at Nebraska will be the final Big Ten memory of their college careers. The coaches, fans and media, though disappointed, move onto next season and beyond. These guys are playing for their legacy.
“To leave some (games) out there, it’s just crazy,” Wadley said. “I just think about the preparation and the hard work we put in on and off the field for months. We let some (games) slip away from us.”
Head coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t allow his players on Twitter. They know what’s being said about their team on social media and elsewhere, however. You can’t hide these days.
It eats at them. It’s human nature.
“I’m pretty sure we expect a lot more than the fans expect. When we’re not playing to that level of football, of course it’s very frustrating,” center James Daniels said.
It’s been a strange season. The 6-5 record, while not disastrous, has been very confusing.
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It started with three wins, including an exciting 44-41 overtime win at rival Iowa State, who has turned out better than people expected. The Big Ten kicked off with a last-second loss to then-No. 4 Penn State. It hurt but could be explained.
Things started to get weird after that.
The Hawkeyes looked listless in a 17-10 loss at Michigan State. It was the first sign that all was not well. A 45-16 Homecoming win against lowly Illinois restored some hope. Then came a bye week.
Instead of putting things together during the break, Iowa flopped in a 17-10 overtime loss at Northwestern. The outlook brightened again following a 17-10 home win against rival Minnesota and a 55-24 demolition of then-No. 3 Ohio State.
Then came a brutal 66-yard offensive performance in a 38-14 loss at Wisconsin and a 24-15 home setback to heavy underdog Purdue on Saturday.
“This is what we do. This is more or less our livelihood right now,” defensive end Parker Hesse said. “When things aren’t going your way, it’s obviously frustrating. No one wants to be in this position.”
Two years ago, Iowa was heading to Nebraska at 11-0. The West Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game was secured. They fell just short of the college football playoff.
In ’16, Iowa finished with three regular-season wins, including an upset of No. 3 Michigan and 40-10 beatdown of rival Nebraska. Despite being blown out by Florida in the Outback Bowl, there seemed to be some momentum heading into 2017.
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Instead, it’s been consistently inconsistent. Penalties, turnovers, dropped passes, poor special teams and just a general feeling of being in quicksand has prevailed.
“Anytime you lose five games, you’re not going to be happy,” senior linebacker Ben Niemann said. “A lot of those were close games as well, games that one or two plays go differently, the outcome is different. It’s frustrating as a competitor. I think our team and our coaches, you wish you could have things back but you can’t dwell on the past. We have two games left and we have an opportunity to win both of them.”
Iowa has displayed an ability to rebound from difficult times this season. That provided hope that it can happen again in the final two games.
“We’ve tried to stay high. You try to win every game. But if you don’t execute, you’re not going to win. I’ve learned a lot from this season. I think everybody else did, too. It’s still not over,” Jewell said.
Tough times can lead to dissension. The players don’t sense that happening in their locker room.
“I think as a team we’ve made sure to stick together,” safety Jake Gervase said. “We’ve left some games on the table that we could have won but they’re in the past. We can’t do anything about them. We lost. We didn’t deserve to win. All of our efforts are towards Nebraska this weekend. It’s a trophy game on the road.”