Badger beat down: Why can’t Iowa football have nice things?

It was Bill, sitting next to me in a chilly but raucous Camp Randall full of beer-fueled and neck-bearded Badger fans, who pointed out the weird parallel.

Like a similarly cold November night seven years ago in Minneapolis, it was only the guy wearing #15 in black and gold who appeared to have any clue about how to play football or bothered to show up for a big road game.

For those that don’t remember, that was the night DJK returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and added a receiving touchdown in a dispiriting 27-24 loss to a 2-9 Minnesota team where no one else really did much of anything.

This past Saturday it was Josh Jackson, also sporting 15, who continued his amazing November by snagging two pick-sixes and forcing a fumble on his way to a second consecutive Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week award.

Normally, this would be cause for great celebration. But considering the rest of the team played like 21 of the worst players in the conference on the same night, it’s kind of hard to get real excited.

Like in 2010, Iowa was coming off a very emotional game against Ohio State.

But unlike 2010, Iowa hadn’t just lost a heartbreaker to a perennial tormenter. Instead, it had rolled what many believe is one of the most talented teams in the country, setting up the exciting prospect of a late autumn surge into relevancy and the rankings.

Psssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh. That’s the sound of the black and gold balloon deflating.

I’m not sure why it’s the Iowa fan’s lot in life, but apparently we are destined to not have nice things. Perhaps it is considered untoward or putting on airs in Iowa City to build on a good thing and make it great. Perhaps Iowa football is simply allergic to success. Whatever it is, it sucks.

It’s also maddeningly repetitive.

Earlier this season Iowa followed up a 45-16 dismantling of Illinois with its worst (until Madison) outing of the season in a putrid overtime loss to Northwestern. Last year, after blitzkrieging Iowa State 42-3, the Hawks stumbled and bumbled to a loss against FCS foe North Dakota State. Remember hammering the Wildcats 48-7 in 2014 and then immediately following that up with a 51-14 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota?

The only thing Iowa is consistent at is wild swings of inconsistency.

Of course there will be the usual dissections and disgruntlement of the Hawkeye coaches’ game plan for the Badger game. Some will say the offense should have passed more. Or ran to the outside. Or had better play calling in general.

I say poppycock.

Sitting in row 42 at about the 30, it was painfully, embarrassingly obvious that Iowa’s offensive linemen had zero answers for Wisconsin’s attacking 3-4 defense. If linemen weren’t missing assignments altogether out of confusion and blocking no one, they were either whiffing on blocks or getting blasted three yards into the backfield. Nile Kinnick throwing to Marv Cook and Danan Hughes behind last Saturday’s offensive line would have looked terrible.

Until Iowa figures out how to deal with the Badger 3-4 defense, it’s hard to imagine them winning a West Division title over the scarlet and white menace. This needs to be a major focus of the off-season strategy sessions.

Things were a bit better, at least for much of the first half, on the other side of the ball. Wisconsin’s horrible quarterback (seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen a legitimate Top 10 team with a worse signal caller in recent memory) tried very, very hard to give the game away to Iowa.

I knew the Hawkeye goose was cooked when Jackson forced a fumble inside Badger territory, giving Iowa its first decent field position (by the way, at some point someone should really tell Iowa punt returners that you are allowed to CATCH THE BALL IN THE AIR) and the offense went three-and-out in about 30 seconds.

When you look up at the scoreboard and you are losing 10-7 despite having three takeaways to zero, you know it’s not going to be your day. Predictably, with the offense in morass mode, the D wilted in the fourth quarter in the face of the Badgers’ devastating rushing attack.

So as we find ourselves asking too often lately, where does Iowa go from here?

Personally, given Iowa’s sizeable budget, outstanding training and practice facilities, rabid fan base and robust institutional support, an 8-4 season should really be the floor for Hawkeye football. The good news is if Iowa wins its remaining two games, in which it is favored, it will have finished 12-0, 8-4 and 8-4 in its last three regular seasons. That is definitely within the realm of acceptability.

The offense is young and a work-in-progress with a new coordinator, new quarterback, two freshmen tackles and a bunch of young guys at tight end and receiver. We can and should expect them to grow and improve.

I fully expect this team to win out, hopefully put an end to a brutal bowl losing streak, and then come into 2018 as a legitimate contender for the West Division title. Anything short of that – especially if accompanied by another embarrassing outing against the bullying Badger – and one really has to wonder if a long-term Ferentzian dynasty is in the best interest of this program.

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