Howe: Hawkeyes Will Always Wonder About What Might Have Been in ’18
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – No matter how this thing ends up, it’s going to be a what-might-have-been season. A loss at Purdue on Saturday pretty much seals that fate for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes would need a miracle to win their first Big Ten championship since 2004 following the 38-36 setback. That’s the reality no matter how potentially good anyone feels this outfit might be.
It’s reasonable to be frustrated. Iowa’s 3-3 conference record could be 6-0 or 5-1 or 4-2. All of those would have it well positioned in the West Division.
We saw special teams’ mistakes in a 28-17 loss to Wisconsin. Penn State knocked off the Hawkeyes when their offense faltered. Saturday, the defense couldn’t keep up with Purdue.
They talk often about playing complementary football, meaning delivering enough winning plays in all three phases. They haven’t done that at a level worthy of a championship.
Sure, officiating was questionable late in Saturday’s game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz and his players criticized it. They didn’t blame the loss on it, however.
They shouldn’t. Nobody should.
Purdue executed better. It coached better. Wisconsin and Penn State did as well.
The Hawkeyes must live with that. And it’s not easy.
“I feel like in all three games we had multiple opportunities to pull out the game, just little mental errors, little things that seem small but made a big impact on the game came back to bite us at the end. Credit to them. They took advantage of all those inconsistent things, the mistakes that we had,” Iowa tight end Noah Fant said.
Let’s be clear. The Boilermakers are good. Wipe away memories of Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell running the show here. Those days are long gone with Jeff Brohm driving the train.
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They destroyed Ohio State here a few weeks ago. They’ve scored at least 30 points in all four of their conference wins and more than 40 in three of them.
Purdue torched the Hawkeyes with big plays, including three scoring throws of 36 yards or more. It rolled up 434 yards of offense against an Iowa team that came into the action ranked second among conference programs in total defense (264.9 YPG) and scoring defense (16.1 PPG).
Safety Jake Gervase felt bad for his offense. While honorable, that side of the ball has performed very well this season and ran up against a dynamic opponent Saturday. Iowa needed to be better in the other phases and weren’t.
Purdue smartly attacked the Hawkeyes with a quick passing game to neutralize their dangerous pass rush. It also isolated and attacked Iowa’s true freshmen cornerbacks.
Again, Brohm is a good coach.
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Last week, Penn State benefitted from a game plan that called for pressuring Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley. He’d been rattled before when the heat was on. It worked.
Good teams zero in on the opponent’s weaknesses. That’s what’s happening to the Hawkeyes and the counter punch is lacking.
“It hurts” Gervase said. “It just comes down to a matter of execution and a matter of playing the full 60 (minutes). It’s not lack of caring. It’s not lack of preparation. It’s not lack of leadership. It’s not making those critical plays at critical times.”
He’s right. The effort is there. When that goes, you have real problems.
Still, you are what your record says you are. The Hawkeyes aren’t where they want to be. And they could be.
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“It’s tough. It’s obviously disappointing. We want to be a championship level football team around here. That’s the goal every season. We just weren’t able to pull the strings together and do it,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said.
With the title chances all but out the window, Iowa moves on to goals it can achieve. By winning out, it could achieve 10 victories in a season for just the sixth time in Ferentz’s 20 years.
“There’s no quit in us. We’re going to come to play. We know the amount of work we’ve put in. And when you’ve put in that much, you’re not going to just lay down. You’re not going to give up,” Stanley said.
That’s what they have to do. They don’t want this circling the drain like what happened in ’14, when a 6-2 start ended up in a 7-6 campaign.
These Hawkeyes can go out on the high note. There’s still time.
That said, there will always be a part of them that wonders about the opportunity that slipped through their fingers even if time softens the blow.