IOWA CITY — There was no crowd-storm this time. Not even crowd flurries.
You’ve never seen fewer folks in Kinnick Stadium at the end of a Hawkeyes game, even a spring game. Those who did remain until the finish of Iowa’s 24-15 loss to Purdue Saturday had to have been either family and friends of the players, or poor souls who were frozen stiff. Like the Hawkeyes’ season has become.
That 55-24 win over Ohio State in the previous game here two weeks earlier? The one with an on-field postgame party with thousands of fans and a team that had played a virtually perfect game against an elite foe? The one that put the Hawkeyes at the top of the college football world for a day and had those fans floating for a week?
That defied logic in more than one way. How can you play like that for one game and have your offense score fewer points than your defense over the next two? How can you have an unforgettable day in an utterly forgettable season?
Conundrums were abundant. Even Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, who deserved a far-better parting gift on Senior Day after he gave a typically sensational individual performance, contradicted himself a bit after the game.
“It comes down to preparation,” Jewell said. “The battle’s won before it’s fought.”
But a few moments later he said “I haven’t seen anything (to be wary of in practice). Nothing made me scared or feel better. I thought we practiced pretty well.”
Virtually every bad box got checked. Dropped passes, again. Occasional miscommunication between the center and the quarterback, again. A punt-return game that is anything but a punt-return game, again. Poor punting. Lousy pass-protecting. A scorched secondary, at least on the side of the field cornerback Josh Jackson didn’t patrol.
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It was a second-straight week of rotten, in Games 10 and 11. Teams tend to go in one direction or the other as November gets longer. This year, the 6-5 Hawkeyes are going south.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was asked why his offense has stalled the last two weeks, He gave the kind of non-answer we hadn’t heard from him since the Hawkeyes’ late-season fiascoes of 2014.
“I think Wisconsin is at the top or near the top in the country defensively,” he said. “So they’ve done it to several people. It’s kind of like you go back to the Michigan-Wisconsin game last year, and it was 14-7. You look at that game, it’s separate than a lot of the games that Michigan played.”
Yeah, the Badgers are really good. Does that mean it’s understandable for a team with Iowa’s pedigree to be so thoroughly dominated by them? Or to be muffled by Purdue, which hasn’t morphed into the Wisconsin of north central Indiana just yet.
As for the Wisconsin-Michigan game of last year, the Wolverines gained 349 yards and won! But even if they had been held to half that yardage and lost, how would it have been relevant to the discussion about Iowa’s current woes?
The Hawkeyes had but 66 yards at Wisconsin last week in a 38-14 Badgers rout. But the next-lowest total Wisconsin has allowed this year is 192.
As for this dismal 258-yard showing against Purdue, Ferentz was more on the mark when he said “We were hoping for a higher level of consistency in our play. That wasn’t there. And that makes it frustrating and it makes it disappointing. And I don’t know what else to say about that. That’s where we’re at right now.”
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Purdue has a good, veteran defense. It has held four opponents to 250 yards or fewer. But it’s mortal. Northwestern hung 390 yards on the Boilermakers last weekend and Nebraska had 471 at West Lafayette two weeks before that.
Really, 258 yards and 13 offensive points? Surrendering six sacks at home to a Purdue defense that came here averaging 1.6 per game? Iowa’s growth curve looks more like a roller coaster, and it’s plunging earthward at a frightening speed.
But that’s only because of that skyrocket ride against Ohio State. This actually is a consistent Iowa team. It has been held under 20 points in six Big Ten games.
The coming Friday’s Iowa-Nebraska affair was supposed to be meaningful. It now feels like something to be endured, and nothing more.