Wine: Black and Gold Misery

Nov. 6, 2005

Did you know that because of a favorable schedule, Purdue was picked by many to win the Big Ten football championship this season? Did you know Purdue finally won its first Big Ten game last Saturday?

Did you know No. 3-ranked Virginia Tech, aiming for a berth in the national championship game, was routed at home by Miami, 27-7?

Did you know No. 7 UCLA lost its first game of the season to lowly ranked Arizona, 52-7?

Did you know Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in some pre-season polls, has only won three games all season?

I mention this for two reasons. First, it proves college football is an unpredictable sport. Second, misery loves company, and you know who is miserable this week.

The last two games have been tough for the Hawkeyes and their fans. They were contests Iowa could have – some say should have – won. Winning those games would have put the Hawkeyes in line for a second straight Big Ten championship.

But it didn’t work out that way because the game is unpredictable. And now there is plenty of misery in Hawkeye Nation.

Yes, college football has a way of changing. A year ago at this time Iowa was winning one close game after another. In a space of four weeks the Hawkeyes won at Penn State by two points, beat Purdue at home by two points, and won at Minnesota by two points.

That marvelous turn of events helped give Iowa a piece of the Big Ten title, which put it in the Capital One Bowl, where it completed a magical season by beating LSU on the most unlikely play most of us will ever witness.

Iowa accomplished all that with an offense that was ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten because it had no running game, a defense that was the best in the league and could protect leads, and special teams that contributed mightily with big plays.

Now, after winning 35 consecutive games in which they had the lead in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes have blown two straight fourth-quarter leads and lost both games.

Last year’s defense would not have allowed Michigan to drive the length of the field in the last period, would it? Surely it would not have let Northwestern score two touchdowns in the final three minutes, would it?

The last two games have been tough for the Hawkeyes and their fans. They were contests Iowa could have – some say should have – won. Winning those games would have put the Hawkeyes in line for a second straight Big Ten championship.

We’ll never know, of course. Seasons end, seniors move on and rosters change. Coaches play with a new deck of cards every year. Which is why the game is unpredictable, fascinating and sometimes — as it is now in Hawkeye Land — frustrating.

This is not to blame two losses on Iowa’s defense, which has six new starters, including the entire front four. Coach Kirk Ferentz says his defense is improving.

The defense is making interceptions and recovering fumbles, but the offense is not capitalizing. With about five minutes left at Northwestern, Adam Shada made an interception. Iowa held a 27-14 lead and the game should have been over.

But the offense couldn’t take advantage and Iowa had to punt. When the Hawkeyes got the ball back they were behind, 28-27.

But wait, we can’t knock the offense. It gained more yards than Michigan and Northwestern. It got on the board early to give Iowa quick leads in both games.

The Hawkeyes did not have a turnover at Northwestern. With the exception of a couple of drops, Drew Tate and his receivers were efficient.

And how about Albert Young? The sophomore tailback romped for more than 200 yards at Northwestern to top the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Imagine last year’s Iowa team with a tailback who had those numbers.

But before we get too carried away with the offense, remember it didn’t score a second-half touchdown in either of the last two defeats.

Kyle Schlicher booted two more field goals at Evanston to give him 13 of 16 for the season. But if you want to look at where the last two games might have been won, note his two misses, both from 41 yards, in each contest.

Brian Ferentz, Iowa’s senior center, believes his class should take responsibility. “The senior class has done a poor job of leading this football team,” he told the press after the loss at Evanston.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, Brian. As the saying goes, there’s plenty of blame to go around. There always is after a painful defeat.

Some 25 years ago college and professional teams started hiring sports psychologists to work with athletes. Gene Gauron was the man at Iowa, and he helped our athletes with such things as relaxation, visualization and positive thinking.

For whatever reason, sports psychologists are no longer in vogue. Maybe it’s time to bring them back. At least to the Hawkeye camp.

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