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IOWA CITY — At some point since Iowa’s home loss to North Dakota State, someone Iowa thought it was important to put up a door to the hallway that leads from the locker room to the interview area.
It’s a slate gray door that reads “Emergency Exit Only.”
So many ways to go with this after the Hawkeyes’ 38-31 loss to Northwestern before 67,047 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson rushed for 171 yards and a 58-yard touchdown and the Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 Big Ten) sacked Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard six times to send the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1) to their second consecutive home defeat.
NU quarterback Clayton Thorson passed for three TDs. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo piled up four of the Cats’ six sacks.
Right about now, you’re looking for the emergency exit. Let’s play this bit out. Someone Iowa needs to start working on a door that protects Beathard and keeps out opposing running backs. OK, bit over.
Now, what about Iowa’s season? The Hawkeyes have lost two home games and now go on the road the next two weeks to Minnesota, a 29-26 overtime loser at Penn State, and Purdue. Then, it’s a five-game stretch that includes Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska — all of which should be ranked — and two road games, including a night game at Penn State.
“We’re trying to shape our identity,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ve had an injury or two, so that modifies things, but it’s going to be a work in progress, and that’s the work in front of us the next six days.”
Iowa’s identity is being shaped for it and that’s not what you’re shooting for in football. So many ways to go with this. Iowa piled up 70 yards in penalties to just 5 for Northwestern. The 70 penalty yards were the most for an Iowa team in 13 games. Let’s focus on the sacks and the rushing yards.
Beathard has now been sacked 24 times in the last seven games, going back to the final two of 2015. The run defense has allowed 239 yards, 193 and 198 in the last three games. That’s Iowa’s worst stretch since the end of 2014, when Wisconsin, Nebraska and Tennessee went for 266, 161 and 283.
There’s a reference back to 2014. That was a 7-6 dud. The door did say “emergency exit.”
“We have to play better team football,” said Beathard, when asked what’s a worse problem for the offense, protection or lack of open receivers. “There’s no reason to point at any spot, because right now we’re not playing well enough in any aspect of our game. We have to get better, we have to get better in every part of our game.”
The Hawkeyes’ first game operating without injured wide receiver Matt VandeBerg was a disaster, with the Hawkeyes flubbing away average field position at their 40-yard line. Between the sacks, Beathard hanging on to the ball and receivers running into coverage, it was like ...
“In some of the instances today, it looked like we were stuck in sand a little bit,” Ferentz said. “I’ve been through that. It’s not much fun to watch it. My experience tells me where it’s not quite as bad as it seemed, it felt pretty bad there.
Certainly when you get sacked, it always feels bad.”
Odenigbo beat left tackle Cole Croston to the edge way too consistently. So, the Hawkeyes had to see it coming when, on third-and-6 from NU’s 47 with about a minute left and Iowa down seven, Odenigbo pressured Beathard into a late throw in the right flat that cornerback Trae Williams picked off to seal it, ending NU’s three-game losing streak to Iowa.
“There are things you can do,” guard Sean Welsh said, when asked about possible solutions for pass protection, “but in the end, you should be more than able to handle a one-on-one on your own. That’s where we need to get better.”
For the second time this season, the Hawkeyes were held to less than 100 rushing yards (79 yards on 41 carries, a pitiful 1.9 yards per carry). On the flip side, Iowa’s run defense was spread out and gutted for the third straight week.
Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker sat next to Jackson for postgame interviews. He checked out the stat sheet and smiled at the numbers.
“Let me make sure I read this correctly,” Walker said. “Twenty six carries for 172 with only 1 yard loss for a net of 171 and one touchdown, which was a long of 58. That was, from my point of view, an exceptional run.
“That’s this guy right here, man. Jackson Avenue.”
When the opposing team reads the stat sheet like that, it’s because it earned the right and there’s nothing you can do about it. You had your chance to have your say.
There are seven games left. The exit is a long way off, but this does feel like an emergency.
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