IOWA CITY — Iowa’s football team scored a touchdown against a good Big Ten team Saturday night. So ... progress?
Uh, not really. Getting in the end zone for the first time in two weeks was no consolation prize. When Nate Stanley hit Brandon Smith for 33 yards with 2:31 left — and a great catch it was — it stopped a bad statistic. However, it didn’t send the home fans off smiling into the night.
In your wildest dreams, did you think you’d ever see the Hawkeyes nearly go touchdown-less in consecutive games no matter the opposition? That’s technically known as a nightmare.
It’s Nightmare City around here after the Hawkeyes’ 17-12 loss to Penn State Saturday night in Kinnick Stadium. A season that seemed to contain great promise a couple weeks ago has suddenly become the middle of a doughnut, offensively. Because of that, Iowa’s place in the college football world is what it was in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In other words, not in the national discussion.
At least those Hawkeye teams reached the end zone every now and then in the biggest games. One of them, believe it or not, hung a 55 on Ohio State. Ah, those were the days.
Hey, the risk with pulling out all the stops is it leaves no more resources at your disposal.
Iowa threw every gimmick it had into its football contest with Penn State Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. All-gold uniforms, a flyover with four F-35 fighter jets, an honorary captainship to the last quarterback who won a major bowl game at Iowa (Ricky Stanzi, 10 seasons ago), and a halftime performance by the cast of “Hamilton.”
OK, I made up that last one. There was no Broadway. The Hawkeyes couldn’t make it here, let alone the Great White Way.
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It wasn’t from lack of desire. They really, really, really wanted to tug heartstrings, manufacture an environment for an ABC audience in which all seemed beautiful in Iowa City and all seemed possible for the football team here on this autumn night on the prairie.
Nice try. The athletics department’s marketing people forgot to put a winning team in the mustard jars in which the players were dressed. Unbeaten Penn State allowed the crowd to have all the early emotion, but it carted home the victory.
An ugly statistic reared its head on the ABC telecast in the third quarter when it was noted Iowa hadn’t scored a touchdown on its last 22 drives against Power Five opponents. That quickly became 23.
The 24th ended with freshman running back Tyler Goodson fumbling away the ball deep in Iowa territory while getting no blocking in front of him.
The 26th concluded with a Nate Stanley interception at the Iowa 35. Eight plays later, Penn State scored a touchdown. That’s the result you get when you take the ball across the goal line.
It made the game 17-6 with 5:17 left, and seemingly, out of reach. Playing hurry-up, the Hawkeyes had a TD drive for old time’s sake. But their worn-down defense couldn’t get the ball back.
The first half offered optimism though the Hawkeyes were relying solely on field goals for their points. They got to the Penn State 20 on their third possession, then retreated and settled for a 47-yard field goal for an early lead that didn’t last long.
Stanley threw a 36-yard pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the last minute of the first half for a first-down at the PSU 4. A go-nowhere running play preceded two incompletions, and a chip-shot Duncan field goal cut Penn State’s lead to 7-6.
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So at least the Hawkeyes had doubled their field goal production from the week before in their 10-3 loss at Michigan.
The fans played with their phone apps to make fireflies in the funhouse at halftime as more fireworks poured out of the north scoreboard.
But the football, still the name of the game after all the sound from the bells and whistles had faded, made a different sound: A thud.
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