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IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes kind of lost it there late in the third quarter. The “lost it” part goes for their poise and, subsequently, the game.
Facemask and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against the Hawkeyes set the wheels in motion for Northwestern scoring the game-winning points in its 38-31 victory over Iowa on Saturday. Penalties have been a theme during the Hawkeyes’ clunky 3-2 start.
The end of the third quarter was a nutty sequence that included flying Gatorade bottles, a quarterback’s head getting turned wildly and unnaturally and then an exchange with the officials that cost Iowa dearly.
First, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard appeared to have his facemask yanked by Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. Beathard’s head was turned 180 degrees and there was no flag. The play ended up as a sack and came on a third-and-6 from Northwestern’s 35-yard line, so it was super clutch from Odenigbo.
“I thought I did,” Beathard said when asked if he was facemasked. “I didn’t see the replay, so ...”
On the Wildcats’ first down, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell was called for a facemask while tackling running back Justin Jackson. Remember, this called facemask came on the toes of a non-call facemask that was shown and roundly booed over the Kinnick video board.
Emotions spiked here and got the best of the Hawkeyes.
Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson made things worse with a few words and a gesture toward the officials, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. So, in one play that actually resulted in little or no gain, the Wildcats went from their 20 to Iowa’s 48.
The Kinnick Stadium crowd registered its disgust with the officials by launching a handful of plastic drink bottles onto the field. This caused referee Jerry McGinn to warn the crowd it could be penalized and to keep the safety of the players in mind.
“The most disappointing thing in that whole sequence was probably our lack of poise,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Penalty calls are going to happen. Good or bad, they’re going to happen. But then talking about self-inflicted things, that’s just a lack of poise. We’re not good enough to give up 15 yards, whether it’s a sack, a penalty.”
Johnson was taken out for a series.
“It wasn’t anything bad,” Johnson said when asked what he said to the officials. “It was me saying, ‘What was the flag for?’ It was the way I said it really that caused the flag.”
Six plays later, quarterback Clayton Thorson caught Iowa in a safety blitz and hit wide receiver Austin Carr for a 25-yard touchdown and a 38-24 lead with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter.
What made this all the more painful for Iowa was that it was hit with six penalties for 70 yards (the most penalty yards against Iowa since 80 against Illinois last season), while Northwestern was called for one penalty for 5 yards. This was the third consecutive week penalties took a chunk out of the Hawkeyes. Against North Dakota State, a holding call wiped out a run that led to a first-and-goal. At Rutgers last week, an illegal block below the waist nullified a 75-yard TD run.
Penalties have been a theme. “Self-inflicted” was the point Ferentz drilled home in his postgame.
“First thing you’ve got to do if you want to win games is not beat yourselves,” Ferentz said, “and I’m not talking strictly about that penalty, but the other things that we’re doing wrong, the false starts, holds, whatever it may be. Those are things we’re going to have to clean up.”