Even in victory worries about the “E” word abound

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”– Pogo

If shooting yourself in the foot was an Olympic sport, the Iowa Hawkeyes football team would be solidly in medal contention.

It feels much, much better to write that sentence after a victory in which it never really felt like the Hawks might lose, but it is just as true this week as it was after the dismal outing in Evanston the week prior.

Between the dropped passes, untimely penalties and crippling turnovers, the fact Iowa managed a more-comfortable-than-the-score-indicates victory over the Minnesota Golden Boat Rowers is a minor miracle.

I hate to parrot the head Hawk, especially when this particular mantra of his is so unpopular, but simple execution errors continue to plague this team. There has been some renewed grumbling about Iowa’s play calling and schemes, particularly on the offensively offensive side of the ball, but I don’t see it. If Iowa had held onto the dropped passes or not held Gopher defenders, this probably would have been a 28-7 laugher and we’d all be somewhat cautiously optimistic with the dreaded Buckeyes coming to town.

Instead, it’s hard to imagine how the Hawks can possibly score enough to keep up with Ohio State.

I also want to note, for the record, that saying play calling and scheme aren’t too blame is not the same as absolving coaches from all responsibility. While I feel youth and inexperience are pretty valid excuses for many of the miscues, we are halfway through the 2017 season and some of the basic mistakes are inexcusable. That is the type of sloppiness you’d like to see get cleaned up in practice, and I’m sure it will be hammered home inside the performance facility this week.

On a more optimistic note, I’m not so sure this wasn’t Nate Stanley’s best day throwing the ball, the drops notwithstanding. His long touchdown pass on play action to Noah Fant was a beauty of a bomb, but a play with a negative outcome may have been the best of the day.

Backed up at his own six yard line with a first and ten, Stanley drops back, pump fakes once, then unleashes a perfect throw that hits a streaking Ihmir Smith-Marsette in full stride sprinting down the sideline. Somehow, Smith-Marsette has the ball bounce off his hands and directly into the arms of a badly beaten Gopher defender for an interception. Make that catch, and Iowa is up 14-0, has a 94-yard passing touchdown in the stat book and no one is grumbling about the “boring” and “predictable” offense.

But that’s football. (Snort)

While we are thinking happy thoughts, let’s think about this Iowa defense. If you would have told me the Hawk D would be holding Big 10 opponents to 17.4 ppg after its first five conference game, I would have assumed the West Division record would be 5-0 or 4-1 at worst. Lost in the nail-biting of one-possession games has been a pretty impressive performance on that side of the ball.

Critics will gripe about allowing big plays and teams to move between the 20s, but at the end of the day, if you keep the opponent out of the end zone, you will win a lot more than you lose. I also think the pass rush has finally gotten on track the past two games and raised quite a bit of havoc with the opponent’s passing game.

The bad news is Iowa still has to play the #1 and #5 scoring offenses in the next two weeks, so it will be imperative that Iowa defenders ramp up their play even more, if possible.

As for the big picture, it’s not going to be easy for Iowa to hit my predicted 8-4 record, but it’s hardly impossible. To me, the key will be to split the next two games against the #3 and #4 teams in the country. Piece of cake, right!?

History says a win over a Top 10 Ohio State team is a virtual impossibility, and I’m afraid I have to agree. I’m in my mid 40s and I’ve only seen Iowa beat the Buckeyes four times and they were only ranked in the Top 10 once, in 1983. Of course, Iowa itself was a Top 10 team that year, coming in at #7.

It’s hard not to expect next week’s blackout game to be a case of “too big, too fast, too strong.” But I do think the Hawks can keep it relatively respectable.

That brings us to our old friend Bucky Badger.

Now, I got sick of everyone badmouthing Iowa’s 2015 schedule while the Hawkeyes were on their way to a perfect 12-0 regular season. So I’m not so much calling Wisconsin a fraud as wondering why they get a free pass when 2015 Iowa didn’t.

The Badgers have played only 1 team with a winning record to date and that is the decidedly mediocre Northwestern team that managed to take advantage of Iowa mistakes to beat the Hawks in overtime. The Badgers didn’t exactly blast them, either, eeking out a one-possession victory at home. In the Badgers’ only other game against a common opponent, Bucky slept-walk through a 24-10 victory over an Illini team Iowa dispatched 45-16.

Does this mean Iowa is sure to win their third-in-a-row at Camp Randall? Nope.

But I think they have more than a fighting chance – especially if they clean up that dreaded execution.

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