IOWA CITY — The push is always for the best possible end. Setbacks cause recalibration and that becomes less and less palatable with each successive setback.
After the Hawkeyes' (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) 24-15 loss last weekend to Purdue, the best possibility is 7-5 and so, going into Friday’s game at Nebraska (4-7, 3-5), that is the goal and it might feel hollow to you, but it’s one win better than six and it’d be one bright moment for a team that might’ve burned off all of its bright Nov. 4 against Ohio State.
After the anomaly that was the Ohio State result, Iowa has lined up in front of teams the last two weeks in Wisconsin and Purdue that seem to have a better handle on who and what they are and who have more talent.
The explanations splinter into a million pieces from there.
“They were just ready to play more than we were,” sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley said during the Purdue postgame, kind of jumping on the grenade for everyone.
You’re not going to want to hear all of the explanations.
“We weren’t up for the challenge,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We weren’t equal to it. And part of that was our execution, or lack thereof. And the things that we did or didn’t do really seemed to kind of snowball or it was a domino effect if you will. Get a good play, get a penalty, what have you. Don’t throw it well enough, don’t protect well enough. When we do, we drop it, that type of thing.
“Not sure of the answers. We’ll have to get ourselves back on our feet by Monday, though.”
That doesn’t mean the explanations that are offered are totally wrong or need to completely be dismissed. Linebacker Bo Bower said the defense can’t allow the big plays that Purdue hit in the third quarter when it made its move. He knows that, you know that.
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“We stuck to it and we just kept trying to grind out the rest of the game,” linebacker Bo Bower said. “I don’t know when exactly it started to slip away, but we were in it. It’s just kind of a sucky situation.”
Bower said this with his eyes red either from spent emotion or washing off the eye black. That is part of the Hawkeyes' recalibrated 2017.
Are the Hawkeyes putting the war paint on or taking it off?
The defense checked in with a representative effort against the Boilermakers (5-6, 3-5), except for the wind-aided third-quarter flourish from Purdue’s passing offense, that is. Boilermakers quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou made this game Purdue’s with five consecutive completions, including a pair of touchdowns, against three Iowa cornerbacks, Manny Rugamba, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins.
That was probably the first time in Ferentz’s 19-plus seasons that Iowa tried to fix a leak and needed four players — junior Josh Jackson rotated from left to right corner — to eventually stop the bleeding.
“You have to come out ready every week,” linebacker Josey Jewell said. “Any team can do anything, so you just come into every week and try to go 100 percent and get your best odds.”
It was another maddeningly inconsistent week for Iowa’s offense. The Boilermakers racked up six sacks. There were a few well-executed blitzes and there were a few one-on-one defeats on the offensive line.
Iowa’s 2017 offense has let go of any program standards in the running game. Iowa wants to define itself with toughness, but at 107.0 yards per game in conference play, the Hawkeyes are one yard ahead of the pace the 2012 team generated. Of course, you know that team was 4-8. Iowa has the running game of a mediocre Big Ten team. Two more games won’t shake that.
“I think it’s really easy for anyone to point fingers at a time like this,” guard Sean Welsh said. “It really just starts with us. You have to give them (Purdue) their due credit. They’ve been playing better this year than the last couple and they were multiple up front. They brought a bunch of different fronts and they were sound in them. They executed.
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“Where we need to start is our own execution. I thought we had a good week of practice. We didn’t bring it to the field.”
It all ends Friday. By the way, Nebraska probably will have a new head coach by the time the weekend is over. The weight is lifted in Lincoln. There’s no salvaging the season, there’s probably not going to be a bowl game, so go get Iowa and go get a traveling trophy.
Iowa is playing for win No. 7 and maybe the Pinstripe Bowl. It’s up to Iowa to show that’s a better place than Nebraska and an impending coaching search.
Any further recalibrating and you’re going to have bigger questions.
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