Tuesdays With Torbee: Good duels gone bad

The Tweet said it all.

Walking out of a performance of Hamilton in Chicago on my anniversary weekend, where I diligently set my phone on do not disturb while Iowa took on #4 ranked Penn State some 200 miles away, my wife read this Tweet from my son:

“I want to die.”

Now (spoiler alert), we’d just seen Alexander Hamilton mourn his hot-headed young son who was gunned down in a foolish duel, so Mrs. Torbee was justifiably a bit concerned.

But I had seen the score of the Iowa game on a quick peek at my phone during the standing ovation, and knew by the score it must have been a heartbreaker. I told her the Tweet had to be referencing the game and there was nothing to worry about, other than a kid bummed seeing his favorite college football team get its soul ripped out on national television.

It wasn’t until I watched the replay Sunday afternoon that the full extent of the horror was revealed. Even via DVR, the emotional scars will stick with me awhile.

Hayden Fry once famously threatened to “bust the first guy in the mouth I saw smiling” for treating a narrow loss to a great Oklahoma team as a moral victory. Like Fry, I’m no fan of moral victories either But while Saturday was certainly a loss for the 2017 Iowa team, it’s hard not to view the performance on the big stage as a victory for the program overall.

First of all, Kinnick, Iowa City and Iowa fans all showed amazingly well. The touching stories from the children’s hospital wave, the striking striped stands packed with passionate fans, the new field with the giant Tigerhawk all looked glorious on ESPN in front of a national audience. And then the Hawkeyes themselves nearly lived up to their well-earned reputation as giant killers who back down to no team in college football.

Though the final outcome was painful, it is impossible not to be impressed and excited about Iowa’s ability to fight tooth and nail literally to the final gun. Someone should write a song about that or something.

Looking at the big picture, I think Iowa gained a lot of respect nationally and reminded college football fans across the country that the program Fry resurrected and Ferentz sustained remains a force to be reckoned with. It may not garner all the accolades and sign all the five star guys it wants, but it will back down to no one and after you play them, you’re going to feel it. That certainly wasn’t the case after last year’s debacle in Happy Valley, so that alone is a plus.

I also think one must keep in mind this was always going to be a rebuilding year of sorts. A first-year starting quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a bunch of freshman starting all over the field – it might even be argued by Iowa’s performance thus far this season that the Hawkeyes are a bit ahead of schedule.

One thing that watching on replay knowing how the game ends affords you is the ability to focus on performance and process without fixating on the outcome. And Iowa looked like it belonged on the field with the Nittany Lions. Sure, poor field position and a few blown O-line assignments dealing with run blitzing early on made the offense look sluggish and bad early, but as the game wore on and the Hawkeyes gained confidence, they were able to trade blows evenly with a Penn State team I think everyone can agree is a legitimate top five squad.

My only real complaint was Brian Ferentz not letting Stanley stand in the pocket and sling it more on first downs, but again, field position and Stanley being a young guy make that decision at least understandable. Despite the issues, I think the Iowa offense looked more dynamic and threatening than any other over the past five years or so. The schemes for the most part were good and plays were there to be made, but the execution was lacking.

I did see quite a few folks lamenting “bad tackling” by defenders not named Josey Jewell, but I think that is not giving Saquon Barkley enough credit. The dude is legit. To my eyes, he has the shiftiness of a guy like Barry Sanders combined with the tackle breaking ability of a guy like Walter Payton. I’m not going to badmouth any defense that struggles to bring a guy like that down.

Now the big question is where do the Hawkeyes go from here?

While they showed they can go toe-to-toe with a great team, will there be an emotional hangover from losing on a walk off touchdown pass?

This will be a challenging week for the Iowa coaches, I think. They need to convince these guys to flush the Penn State game and realize that if they want to get that bad taste out of their mouths, they need to win and keep winning. The West Division is ripe for the picking. Nebraska is reeling, Northwestern appears overrated, Purdue crashed back to earth and Minnesota looks solid-but-not-spectacular. The West title might be decided in Madison later this autumn, but Iowa can’t afford many more stumbles along the way.

If they want a rematch with Saquon and the Lions in Indianapolis, it starts this Saturday in East Lansing.

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