IOWA CITY — The slogan for Iowa’s football team as the 2012 season approached was “Enter the Black.”
Mission accomplished. The Hawkeyes tumbled into the heart of darkness Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Some freaky-bad deja vu: Iowa had a running back rush for over 200 yards and still lost to an unremarkable, double-digit underdog by one point instead of kicking that dog.
That happened to to the Hawkeyes last October in their 22-21 defeat at Minnesota late last October. Marcus Coker carried 32 times for 252 yards and two touchdowns for Iowa. It didn’t matter.
On Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, it was Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31. Iowa’s Mark Weisman, who has quickly become college football’s foremost authority on how to stiff-arm and disarm opposing defenders, had 27 rushes for 217 yards and three scores.
It’s almost incredible this column isn’t a sequel to last week’s feel-good Weisman story. It should have been, because teams with 200-yard rushers don’t lose. Or rather, they shouldn’t.
A team with a 200-yard rusher has usually imposed its will on its opponent. It typically means it played the game the way it wanted, and didn’t let the opposition dictate any terms.
But this is Iowa football in the 2010s, when the door is often left open for foes believed to be inferior. You find ways to lose two straight years to Minnesota teams that were not good. You run the ball down the throat of a Central Michigan club that had been 4-19 against FBS competition since the start of the 2010 season.
You still lose.
Iowa’s offense racked up 430 yards and was dominant on its final possession of Saturday’s game, driving for a touchdown with 2:18 left and a 31-23 lead.
Then the Hawkeye defense wilted and gave up a TD drive to make it 31-29 with: 45 remaining. But the Chippewas’ 2-point conversion try failed. That was a big whew.
Then Iowa had had what seemed like a day-and-a-half to figure out how what CMU was up to as it prepared its onside kick, but the Hawkeyes froze when it counted. Just like it did at Minnesota last October.
“We looked very confused out there, and that’s not a good thing,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said about the fateful kick. “We were indecisive.”
Then the defense shriveled again as CMU senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff masterfully gained the necessary yardage for David Harman to get his shot at the 47-yard field goal that he made.
Enter the Black? A black hole, maybe.
This wasn’t Iowa’s opening game, where you can say you had kinks to work out, a la the 18-17 win over Northern Illinois. This was Week 4, the lead-in to the Big Ten season. This was supposed to be the Hawkeyes moving forward, building some confidence and credibility.
But this was a team that didn’t make anything good happen on special teams unless it came directly off the foot of place-kicker Mike Meyer or punter John Wienke.
This was a team that often had trouble getting the right players on the field on defense, let alone getting them in the right spots. This was a team making foolish penalty after foolish enalty. Four personal fouls?!?
“Undisciplined” seemed like an apt description of the Hawkeyes.
“I think anything that has nine penalties, seven of them being majors, that word would probably fit right in there,” Ferentz said. “So I would have to say so. Undisciplined, sloppy, however you want to look at it.”
And don’t forget, Central Michigan settled for field goals on three different trips inside the Iowa 12-yard line.
In perhaps the cruelest irony of all, the Hawkeyes would probably have won this game had they gone into a fetal position on their final possession of the first half.
For all the times fans wanted Kirk Ferentz’s teams to take a couple shots downfield in the last two minutes of the half and barked when he wouldn’t, on Saturday Iowa did just that. Sort of. They weren’t what you would call great shots.
A holding penalty, two incompletions, a 7-yard pass immediately followed by a CMU timeout, and the visitors got the ball back via 30-yard punt with 1:19 and two timeouts left.
The Iowa drive took a mere 41 seconds and left. Radcliff subsequently guided his team to the Iowa 3 before the Chippewas settled for a field goal and probably grumbled about it. Little did they know it’s eventual worth.
The Hawkeyes aren’t good, folks. They weren’t good last season, and they aren’t good now.
You knew this year would probably be bumpy, but you expect a team to make tangible progress from week to week.
Sure, Iowa’s offense hammered on ordinary Mid-American Conference defense. But when the Hawkeyes leave an unspectacular nonconference schedule with a 2-2 record and are riddled by Central Michigan’s offense, this season has the potential to be tedious.
“Obviously you’d love to be 4-0,” said Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, “but that’s not the case. We haven’t played well enough to be 4-0.
“When you go through these tough situations you really see peoples’ inner character. I have a lot of faith in the guys in the locker room, offense, defense, special teams. We’ll respond to this.”
Maybe they will. But they sure didn’t respond on Saturday in many ways, and this game counted, too.
“I tell our team all the time we get what we deserve,” Ferentz said, “and that’s what we got today.”