Wine: It Gets Tougher

Sept. 16, 2007

An old sports axiom tells us to not get too high after a victory or too low after a defeat.

No doubt that’s good advice, but it’s hard not to be a bit discouraged after Iowa’s 15-13 loss at Iowa State Saturday.

In losing at Ames, the Hawkeyes continued some troubling trends that began two seasons ago – trends that made them an ordinary team rather than an exceptional good team.

When Iowa was winning 31 games, two Big Ten championships and playing in three January bowl games in the three seasons of 2002-2004, it did so by winning close games, beating teams it was favored to beat, and scoring when in the red zone.

The Hawkeyes faltered in those areas in 2005 and 2006, and came out of those two seasons with a 13-12 record.

Those failures surfaced again at Iowa State Saturday when the Hawkeyes:

Moved from their own 36 to the Cyclone 10-yard line in the fourth quarter, then had a bad series of downs and attempted a field goal that was blocked.

In reflecting on the game, I’m not sure which is more puzzling – how Iowa State managed to beat Iowa, or how Iowa State lost its first two games (both at home) to Kent State and Northern Iowa.

Took a 13-12 lead with less than four minutes remaining, then allowed the Cyclones to drive the field for a game-winning field goal.

Lost to a team they were favored to beat handily, the second straight time that has happened to Iowa at Ames.

How damaging are defeats like this?

Well, in 2005 the Hawkeyes would have been 11-1 instead of 7-5 had they not lost to Michigan by three points in overtime and Northwestern by one point in the final minute, and if they had beaten Iowa State and Minnesota – both decided underdogs.

In 2006 they would have been 10-3 instead of 6-7 had they not lost to Indiana and Wisconsin (both by three points), to Texas by two points, and had not lost to underdog Northwestern at home.

Of course a team cannot win every close game, nor can it win every game in which it is favored. And it cannot score every time it enters the red zone. But if wants to have an exceptional season, it had better do so most of the time.

That’s why it was important for the Hawkeyes to go to Ames, put on a good show and come home with a solid victory. Instead, they trailed12-0 at halftime after their offense sleep-walked through the first 30 minutes. Then the offense found a spark after intermission to give Iowa a lead the defense could not hold.

But we can’t blame this defeat on Iowa’s defense. It kept a third straight opponent out of the end zone. Iowa State has a lot of offensive weapons, including a record-setting senior quarterback. Holding the Cyclones to five field goals is acceptable. Scoring only 13 points against a suspect ISU defense is not.

Iowa’s offense didn’t fumble the ball or throw interceptions. It had no turnovers. It simply could not move the football in the first half.

In reflecting on the game, I’m not sure which is more puzzling – how Iowa State managed to beat Iowa, or how Iowa State lost its first two games (both at home) to Kent State and Northern Iowa.

Here’s a sobering thought. The three teams Iowa has played have a combined 1-8 record (the only victory was courtesy of the Hawkeyes). Iowa’s next three opponents are 9-0.

This week it’s on to Wisconsin, which is 15-1 under second-year Coach Bret Bielema, the former Iowa captain and assistant coach.

The Hawkeyes will not be favored in this one, and that may be a good thing.

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