Wine: Hawkeyes Need to Look Ahead

Nov. 5, 2006

You can take the videotape of Iowa’s football game with Northwestern, put it in the VCR and run it over and over and over again.

And you will always come to the same conclusion: The Hawkeyes got out-hustled, out-muscled, outplayed and, according to Kirk Ferentz, out-coached.

The 21-7 loss to the Wildcats was no fluke. In fact, the margin could easily have been greater. On Saturday, Northwestern looked like the 20-point favorite. Iowa looked like the team without a Big Ten victory.

So much for the Kinnick Stadium mystique and its home-field advantage. So much for the Hawkeyes playing their best football in November. So much for a Top 25 finish and another January bowl game in Florida.

Do statistics lie? In this game they did.

The Wildcats came into Kinnick dead last in the Big Ten in total offense, but it took them only five plays to go 80 yards and score a touchdown on their first possession. They finished the game with a season-high 443 yards rushing and passing.

Meanwhile Iowa’s offense was able to generate only 264 yards, or 126 yards under its average. The Hawkeyes went more than 41 minutes before scoring their only touchdown of the game. Guess where Northwestern ranked in Big Ten total defense. If you said last, you are right.

It was a puzzling performance by Iowa, with so much riding on the game’s outcome and an opportunity to gain a measure of redemption for a gut-wrenching defeat at Evanston last season.

The Hawkeyes have sustained an unusual number of injuries this season and have several starters and top reserves sitting on the sidelines. No doubt that is a factor in this team’s failure to show the steady improvement Ferentz’s teams are noted for. A revolving door at quarterback cannot be good for continuity.

But the Hawkeyes won’t get much sympathy from the Wildcats. While Iowa has lost players to injuries, Northwestern lost its coach, Randy Walker, to a heart attack earlier this year. There is ACL surgery and there is sudden death.

With two games remaining, Iowa must win both to prevent a Big Ten second division finish, something it hasn’t experienced since 2000. One victory guarantees a winning season and bowl berth.

Wisconsin is at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday, then Iowa finishes the season against Minnesota at the MetroDome. Both opponents present a big challenge.

The Badgers come into Kinnick with a new coach in Bret Bielema. He was a Hawkeye walk-on 18 years ago and became a pretty good linebacker, playing for the 1990 Iowa team that won a Big Ten co-title. He was co-captain of the 1992 Hawkeyes.

Bielema has his Badgers playing good football. Their record is 6-1, with the only loss at Michigan. They have a defense that ranks No. 7 in the NCAA and a big running back, P.J. Hill, who leads the Big Ten in rushing.

Bielema is the second Hayden Fry protégé to bring a team to Kinnick this season. Earlier Dan McCarney visited with his Cyclones from Iowa State.

The Hawkeyes would like to beat Bielema like they did McCarney, but it will be a tall order. Wisconsin is a rock-solid football team.

A year ago at this time Iowa visited Wisconsin for Barry Alvarez’s last head-coaching appearance at Camp Randall Stadium. A huge good-bye party was staged for Alvarez, another Hayden Fry protégé, but the Hawkeyes refused to cooperate and won the game 20-10.

But this is a different season and a much different Iowa team. In analyzing last Saturday’s game, Kirk Ferentz said it was Northwestern that looked like “the hungry team.”

For the Hawkeyes to have any chance against Wisconsin, they need to regain their appetite for victory.