Wine Online: Crossroads

Sept. 26, 2005

At halftime of Saturday’s game at Ohio State, I pulled out a copy of Iowa’s football media guide to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks. It wasn’t.

There, on page 28 of the guide, it says, “The 2005 Hawkeyes could be very strong offensively.”

Later on the same page it has Coach Kirk Ferentz pointing out the experience in his offensive line, and that for the first time in his six years at Iowa, he will start the season with a veteran quarterback.

“We’re excited about that,” Ferentz is quoted as saying.

What coach wouldn’t be? Not only is Drew Tate a veteran, he was voted the best quarterback in the Big Ten last season when Iowa shared the league title.

The offense obviously played a key role in helping the Hawkeyes finish the 2004 season with eight straight victories, averaging 22.8 points a game during that stretch. Most of that offensive unit was returning.

So how was it at halftime of the game at Columbus that Iowa had only 13 total yards and 2 first downs? And ABC-TV announcer Tim Brant was saying, “I’m shocked at how inept Iowa was the first half. It’s been an offensive embarrassment.”

Stinging as that was, it got worse in the Sunday papers when headline writers and columnists used words like “Horrible” and “Rotten” and “Awful” in describing Iowa’s performance.

There are undoubtedly those who believe the media is being too harsh on the Hawkeyes, and perhaps it is, but nobody can dispute the facts, which are:

Four games into the season Iowa, which ranked among the nations 20 best teams in most pre-season polls, has stumbled to a 2-2 record. In winning twice at home against overmatched opponents, the offense scored lot of points and functioned smoothly.

In road games against two strong opponents, the Hawkeyes failed to score a touchdown. At Iowa State, they made more yardage than the Cyclones but never penetrated the red zone. At Ohio State, the numbers were anemic, if not pathetic. Iowa was 1 of 12 in third-down conversions, had a minus nine yards rushing, and 137 total yards.

Yes, Ohio State has a terrific defense. The Hawkeyes might not face a better one this year (we can only hope). Still, Miami of Ohio and San Diego State both scored touchdowns in losing to the Buckeyes, and both gained more yards than did Iowa.

And after watching a winless Army team roll up 365 yards in a 28-21 loss to Iowa State, it’s hard to believe the Hawkeyes failed to cross the goal line at Ames, even without their No. 1 quarterback in the second half.

Speaking of Tate, his frustration boiled over when Iowa’s first decent drive at Columbus ended when the Buckeyes blitzed and sacked him for a big loss. Tate leaped to his feet and slammed the ball down, an automatic penalty.

If the Hawkeyes hope to get their offensive act together, the quarterback will have to calm down and maintain his composure. Tate’s behavior did not win him any admirers.

A year ago Ohio State came to Kinnick Stadium and absorbed a 33-7 defeat. On that day the Buckeyes looked very much like the Hawkeyes did at Columbus Saturday. Both visiting teams were out of sync and never got themselves into the game.

Following their loss at Iowa, the Buckeyes went on to win five of their last six games. They did not let one ugly defeat spoil their season.

As puzzling and embarrassing as the Hawkeyes’ two losses have been, I believe they have what it takes to finish strong and have a good season. After all, these are the same coaches and many of the same players who won 10 games last year

It was an interesting first week of action in the Big Ten. Minnesota beat Purdue in two overtimes. Wisconsin and Penn State both won in the final minute at the expense of Michigan and Northwestern, respectively.

Iowa’s next opponent is Illinois, which gave up 61 points and 705 yards at home to Michigan State. Those are figures that would have once had Iowa’s offense “licking their chops,” to use a Hayden Fry expression.

But the Hawkeyes can’t think in those terms. They’ve got to concentrate, settle down, move the ball and score some touchdowns.

This is Homecoming week on the UI campus. Win the 21st straight game at Kinnick Stadium and send the alumni home in a good mood.