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Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head, that didn’t hurt — "Sunday Morning Coming Down," Kris Kristofferson
The Iowa football team’s pursuit of a perfect season lasted all the way into December last year, but didn’t make it to October this time around.
Unlike five occasions in the 2015 regular season when they went 12-0, the Hawkeyes were on the wrong side of a game decided by one score Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. Will North Dakota State’s 23-21 victory over Iowa be a pothole on the road to what still becomes a successful season for the Hawkeyes or does it signify more bad road ahead?
The Hawkeyes are allowing an average of 174.3 rushing yards per game, ranking them 91st nationally. That was after a homestand against Miami (Ohio), Iowa State and North Dakota State. Which suggests warning signs need to be placed on that road’s shoulder.
Iowa was 15th in the nation in rushing defense last year, surrendering an average of just 121.4 yards. That included eight conference games, the league-championship contest, and the Rose Bowl. Nine Big Ten games still await the Hawkeyes in 2016, starting Saturday at Rutgers.
It hadn’t been a deafening chorus, but I’ve have heard people say “Iowa got all the breaks in close games last year,” or variations of it. Don’t buy it. Good teams make their breaks, and always have.
The Hawkeyes were good last year, plenty good. They were 5-1 in games decided by one score, with the only loss the Big Ten championship against a Michigan State club that went 6-1 in one-score games. The Spartans were good, plenty good.
Nebraska, on the other hand, was 3-6 in one-score games and went 6-7. The Cornhuskers didn’t have “Sunday Morning Coming Down” stuck in their heads when they awakened the day after their 35-32 victory over Oregon in Lincoln Saturday. They knew the song by heart last fall.
Here we are entering Week 4 and the Big Ten season. Iowa is 0-1 in close games, 0-1 in the only game it’s played so far that anyone will remember when the season’s over. The takeaway shouldn’t be that the Hawkeyes dropped a squeaker to the FCS champs, but that it could have been worse. They got outgained by 132 yards and had the ball for only 39 percent of the game.
Iowa led 14-7 at halftime, but dodged lots of raindrops on a blue-sky day. Its first offensive play of the game would have gone for 40, 50, maybe even 98 yards, but C.J. Beathard overshot wide-open George Kittle at the Iowa 22. The Hawkeyes went 3-and-out.
After that, in the first half alone … NDSU didn’t score after getting inside the Iowa 35 on its first two drives … Kittle went for 51 yards on a completion, fumbled while getting tackled, but teammate Jerminic Smith recovered. … Smith and Akrum Wadley had back-to-back drops of on-target Beathard passes …
But then came the second half, and NDSU had touchdown drives of 65 and 80 yards and muffled Iowa’s offense on all but one second-half drive. The Bison absolutely owned the fourth quarter. It would have been poetic injustice had Cam Pedersen not made that last-second, game-winning field goal.
Now, Saturday’s Iowa-Rutgers game looms even larger than just being the Big Ten-opener. The Hawkeyes need to win, and need a week of growth.
Many touted teams that lost early-season games they were supposed to win regrouped to have satisfying seasons. For others, a big misstep like Iowa’s on Saturday was a sign of what was ahead.
Rather than wallowing in it, the Hawkeyes need to shelve their usual even-keel approach for a week and make disgust and anger work for them. Otherwise, it wont be the last time they think there’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.