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IOWA CITY — The Iowa football way is to keep things internally, to not publicly speak in specifics when it comes to shortcomings.
So, what we predictably heard from Hawkeye players and their head coach after their 38-31 loss to Northwestern Saturday was cliche salad.
“We have to correct our mistakes from this game and see what we did wrong,” said Hawkeye cornerback Desmond King.
“Small details,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “Doing your job, playing your role. Consistency is huge for us right now. … Keep on practicing 100 percent every day, giving it all you’ve got, and don’t hold back on any play, not during practice or during games.”
“We’ve got to correct (mistakes seen on) tape, take it one day at a time,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said.
Somewhere, Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh of “Bull Durham” were smiling. “We gotta play it one day at a time,” veteran Crash taught kid Nuke to tell reporters.
But what could Hawkeye players really say? That they stunk it up at home for the second-straight time and gave their third-straight uninspired performance?
That they continue to get gouged for huge amounts of rushing yardage? That their running game, which crushed the Wildcats’ spirit in Evanston last year, did nothing of the sort Saturday? That they made a Northwestern offense that was ranked 125th nationally in scoring look like it was an actual thing?
That they didn't protect Beathard any better than they did two weeks ago, that Beathard isn’t playing up to the high standard he set last year, that they aren’t intimidating, that they don’t seem to play with fire or swagger or confidence? That they just aren’t very good right now?
They’re not saying that, they can’t, and they shouldn’t. They have to live with each other, and for seven more games. They want to go 10-2 and win the Big Ten West, whether you now think it’s an impossible dream or not.
The head coach is the member of the program who is paid to answer questions. He was asked if he and his staff have a handle on their team five games into the season.
“I don’t know if you ever get a handle on a team, quite frankly,” Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a work in progress. The team is a work in progress. Every week is a different story, a different adventure, and it’s been that way historically.”
Instead of hiring a translator, just take that as a no.
No disrespect is intended here toward Northwestern, which has every reason to feel proud about the way it played for 60 minutes and how it stood up to Iowa on the Hawkeyes’ final possession.
But these were wobbly Wildcats coming in here, an outfit that got outplayed at home by Nebraska the week before and had been beaten by Western Michigan and Illinois State. It turned out the hosts were wobblier.
Iowa had just one player taken in the 2016 NFL draft. Though Austin Blythe was a terrific player, the center was 248th out of the 253 selections.
That more than suggested this year’s Hawkeyes could or would or should be good. If you keep most of your best players from a team that won 12 games, you belong in the Top 15 of the preseason rankings. Or so it seemed.
Today, at least for the time being, Iowa isn’t good. Allowing over 200 rushing yards for a second-straight home game isn’t good. Failing to reach 300 yards of total offense for a second-consecutive home game isn’t good.
We aren’t talking about lacking a dash of salt or a sprig of oregano. This team needs more meat and potatoes. Like not surrendering six quarterback sacks to a Wildcats team that totaled six over its first four games.
Hawkeye fans live with seldom having skill position stars who go on to light up the NFL, let alone make NFL rosters. But they’re used to the grunts — the blockers and tacklers — who give this program its identity and soul when things are right.
Right now, things aren’t right. Not at all.
Sure, there’s still a lot of season left and all that jazz. But this year is no longer an extension of last season. Last year is yesteryear.