By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Leadership. The word is mentioned as often as first downs, blocking, tackling, and touchdowns.
A third of the way through the regular season, it’s a very important word for the University of Iowa football team.
“You can’t have a good team without good leadership,” senior free safety Jake Gervase said. “I think we have a strong group of seniors and some underclassmen that step up and are good leaders.”
That leadership will be key moving forward after a 28-17 loss to No. 18/16 Wisconsin on Saturday in sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
Gervase is part of an Iowa defense that entered the game second nationally in total and scoring defense. But the Badgers put together a 10-play, 88-yard drive that culminated in the go-ahead touchdown with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
“They made critical plays, and we couldn’t make them,” Gervase said. “We knew coming in this was going to be the most talented offense we had faced, in both the running and passing game. We were excited for that challenge.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t play the full 60 minutes. We didn’t finish strong. That ended up costing us the game. You learn from it and move forward.”
It was a game full of what-ifs on the Iowa sideline. A game where it would be easy to point fingers.
“When you play as hard as you can for 60 minutes and put a lot into it, it hurts,” Gervase said. “You win as a team, and lose as a team. It’s not just one guy. It’s all of us.”
Defense is built on doing your assignment and trusting your teammates to do theirs. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.
“We trust each other,” Gervase said. “You know that at times, guys are going to get beat. No one has ever played a perfect football game, on either side of the ball. It’s just knowing that if someone makes a mistake, they’re going to come back and clean it up on the next play. We all work for the common goal. We just couldn’t finish, and they did.”
Gervase is on the 12-member 2018 Iowa Leadership Group. Heading into a bye week before returning to the field Oct. 6 at Minnesota, he knows it’s time to lead by example.
“It’s important that we get better (during the bye week),” Gervase said. “We have to fall back on our fundamentals, put trust in our coaching staff and in each other.”
Gervase knows something about digging deep and beating the odds. He came to Iowa as a walk-on from Davenport Assumption (Iowa) High School with no guarantees. He earned a scholarship. He was a starter to open the 2017 season, but got benched for several games. He worked his way back into the rotation.
“I think I learned a little more appreciation for the game last year, when I was going through some adversity and getting pulled from a couple of games,” Gervase said. “At the same time, I’m not focused on that right now. We have to get better day-in and day-out. I’ll be focused on whatever I can do to help the team, whether it’s defense or special teams. Our defense can be special if we can come together.”
Gervase said the Wisconsin loss won’t carry over to the bye week.
“We’re going to flush it and learn from our mistakes,” Gervase said. “It’s going to make us a better team moving forward.”
Gervase sees value in the bye week.
“We can rest,” he said. “Then it’s an eight-game stretch from there. We have to come together. We have confidence. We think we’re a solid defense and a solid team overall. As a group we have to come together, learn from this and keep chugging along.”
Gervase said the next week will be dedicated to improving as a team.
“Through next week we’ll have some fundamental days where we know we’re not doing an opponent’s scout work,” Gervase said. “We’ll be working on the basics on offense, defense, and special teams. That’s what’s going to make us better.”