Wine Online: Misery Loves Company

Sept. 11, 2005

If misery loves company, the football teams of Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State should have gotten together on Sunday to console one another.

A day earlier all three Big Ten teams faced important games with tough opponents. All were in the Top Ten and favored. All were bloodied by losses that were more or less self-inflicted.

The Hawkeyes and Wolverines shot themselves squarely in the foot, while a fumble late in the game cost the Buckeyes a chance to kick what would have been their sixth and game-winning field goal.

So the thud, thud, thud you heard Saturday was the sound of three Big Ten teams falling in the national rankings. Michigan and Ohio State were upset at home by Notre Dame and Texas, respectively, while Iowa was fumbling around at Iowa State.

Michigan would have beaten a surprisingly good Notre Dame team had it not given the ball away twice at the goal line. The only two Wolverine turnovers of the game proved costly in a nationally televised contest on ABC.

A short time later in Ames, on the same TV network, Iowa made three turnovers in the first 17 minutes. The third was especially damaging – Drew Tate threw an errant pass, then knocked himself out of the game by tackling the Cyclone who made the interception.

Iowa gave the ball away twice more before the game ended. Opportunistic Iowa State scored all its 23 points off four of the five Hawkeye turnovers.

In a night game on the same ABC-TV network (should the Big Ten consider a new television deal?) Ohio State and Texas played an entertaining contest before a late Buckeye fumble settled the outcome.

On the face of it, the final score of 23-3 makes it appear Iowa was pushed up and down the field, but that was hardly the case. In some ways, that makes the outcome harder to accept. You hate to say the Hawkeyes gave one away, but yes, they sort of gave one away.

Of the three teams expected to be in the Big Ten title hunt, Iowa was easily the biggest upset victim. The Hawkeyes were a nine-point favorite and lost by 20.

On the face of it, the final score of 23-3 makes it appear Iowa was pushed up and down the field, but that was hardly the case. In some ways, that makes the outcome harder to accept. You hate to say the Hawkeyes gave one away, but yes, they sort of gave one away.

They actually had more total yardage than did Iowa State, but because of the five turnovers coupled with six penalties, the offense never found the rhythm and comfort zone necessary to move the football consistently.

Which leaves Kirk Ferentz and his coaching staff with some serious questions, such as:

Why did a veteran offense that functioned so well in the season opener malfunction so badly a week later? How can it play an entire game without penetrating the red zone?

Why did a passing game that was instrumental in a Big Ten co-championship last season look so inept in its first big test of 2005?

Why has a team that lost only five fumbles in 12 games a year ago already recorded that number after two games?

How much did the loss of Drew Tate early in the second quarter affect the offense?

Are the glaring offensive breakdowns at Ames simply an aberration, or will they be an ongoing problem?

On the other side of the coin, there are some positive things for Ferentz and his staff to take from the game at Ames. The defense, with all those new players up front, performed pretty well. The Cyclones had only 323 total yards.

On a windy day, the kicking game was sound. John Gallery and Andy Fenstermaker averaged 45 yards on seven total punts. Kyle Schlicher kicked a 45-yard field goal.

And perhaps most encouraging, Iowa’s running game produced some big plays, with Albert Young gaining 140 yards on 18 carries. (Had you told me earlier in the week Young would do that I would have told you Iowa would win decisively.)

And although Hawkeye fans do not like losing this interstate game, we have learned the outcome does not make or break a season. In 1981 Iowa lost 23-12 and played in the Rose Bowl. In 2002 the Hawkeyes blew a 17-point lead in losing 36-31 and wound up in the Orange Bowl.

Still, there are a lot of questions about this team after two games. Following a contest with Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday, the Hawkeyes open their Big Ten campaign at Ohio State.

Which does not leave much time to answer those questions.

Editor’s Note: George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the UI’s long-time head football coach, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.

George Wine