IOWA CITY, Ia. – As we head into week three of the Big Ten football season,
unpredictability best describes what has happened so far.
Ohio State is flexing its muscles, as expected, but look around the rest of the league.
Iowa lost three games last season. The Hawkeyes are 0-2 heading into Saturday’s
game with Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium.
Northwestern won three games last season. The Wildcats are 2-0 after keeping Iowa
off the scoreboard for the last 37 minutes of the game in a one-point victory.
Minnesota has rowed the boat to an 0-2 start, but Purdue and Indiana are 2-0.
Michigan State, embarrassed at home in the opener against Rutgers, won at arch-
rival Michigan Saturday, 27-24, as former Valley of West Des Moines quarterback
Rocky Lombardi completed 17 of 32 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Penn State is the only winless team in the Big Ten East. Maryland bounced back
from a 44-3 beatdown at Northwestern to edge Minnesota in overtime, 45-44. The
Gophers and Illinois join Iowa at 0-2. And the Wisconsin-Nebraska game was a
“As you guys have all witnessed already in two weeks, it’s a week-to-week thing,”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen
next week based on this week.”
But the season does have one predictable element to it that is at the heart of Iowa’s
0-2 start. This team has put itself in a position to win for two weeks, and struck out
swinging both times.
Iowa has scored 34 first-half points in the first two games, with just a field goal to
show in the second half. And when it comes time to make a winning play, it doesn’t
The DNA of every football team is different, no matter what the record was the
previous season or how many returning starters there are. Every team needs to
learn how to win. And so far, that is missing from this season’s team.
Ferentz said after Saturday’s game that this team is just not there yet.
“That’s really evident the last two weeks,” he said. “We just need to get over the
hump, just like teams need to learn how to win, and we’re probably in that situation,
too. We’ve lost two close games. So what do you have to do to push it forward and
get the job done?”
There have been issues on both sides of the ball. Purdue was able to control the line
of scrimmage and run the ball with success the second half. Northwestern ran 34
times for 122 yards in the first half, but gained just 21 yards in 26 carries the second
That mirrors Iowa’s offense in this tale of two halves. The Hawkeyes have passed
for 321yards in the first half of the first two games, but just half of that in the second
half. The rushing game has produced 150 yards the first half and 122 the second
Whatever offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is doing with second-half
adjustments, it’s not working. Saturday marked the sixth consecutive game where
Iowa has failed to score a point in the third quarter. Three of those games, against
Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska last season, still ended up as victories.
“The most important stat is winning, so as long as we’re winning, we’ll live with
that,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But to that point, (Northwestern) outplayed us in the
He added, “We didn’t really do anything well enough consistently to expect to win a
Big Ten game. That’s two weeks in a row, so those are the things we’re going to have
to focus on.”
Winning time has eluded the Hawkeyes for two straight weeks. Iowa had a 20-17
lead at Purdue two weeks ago when it got the ball with 8:20 remaining in the game.
Six plays later, facing a third-and-seven from the Purdue 41, Mekhi Sargent broke
loose for a 13-yard gain, only to fumble it away at the Boilermakers’ 28.
Thirteen plays later, Purdue scored the winning touchdown with 2:15 remaining.
A Jack Koerner interception gave Iowa the ball at the Northwestern 36 with 8:05 to
play against Northwestern. Tyler Goodson went for 9 yards on first down, but lost 3
on second down. And then quarterback Spencer Petras was picked off.
And who knew that when Caleb Shudak’s 52-yard field-goal attempt into the wind to
end the first half bounced off the right upright, those three points would have
provided the winning margin.
“That one kick is probably representative of our game (Saturday),” Kirk Ferentz
said. “Close but not close enough.”
Petras had a rough outing in his second career start, completing just 12 of 25
second-half passes and getting intercepted three times. Two of them were on tipped
balls. Numbers like those are magnified in a loss.
“It’s a matter of playing the full 60, and every situation is a little bit different,” Kirk
Ferentz said. “But it gets back to just trying to practice a little bit better, meet a little
bit better, and hopefully that carries over to the game field. There’s no magic
formula for it.”
Michigan State comes into Kinnick on a high after beating Michigan in the Big House.
This came one week after turning the ball over seven times, including five fumbles,
in a 38-27 loss to Rutgers in East Lansing.
Iowa’s secondary should expect a busy day. Lombardi has completed 48 of 75
passes for 642 yards, six touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in the first two
It will start with the defensive line’s ability to put pressure on Lombardi. Iowa
recorded three sacks, and seven tackles for a loss, against Northwestern. Tackle
Daviyon Nixon had 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss and forced a fumble.
Seth Benson, making his first career start at linebacker, had 13 tackles.
But second-half production from Iowa’s offense is where the rubber will meet the
road in this one.
Expect to see better balance from the offense. A team that had 36 rushes and 39
passes at Purdue had 23 rushes and 51 passes against Northwestern. Iowa hasn’t
seen that lopsided a run-pass attack since a 2014 game against Ball State. The
Hawkeyes had 55 passes and 29 rushes that day, rallying from a 10-point deficit in
the fourth quarter to win, 17-13.