Iowa Football

Iowa football season so far: Off target

Suddenly, Hawkeyes are 0-2 after blowing 17-0 lead vs. Northwestern

IOWA CITY — It figures. Why wouldn’t Iowa football’s joyless offseason, placed firmly in our most-joyless year in general, have a joyless start to this season?

Iowa is an early-season bust, two games out of first place after two weeks. That’s two games behind Purdue and Northwestern, not Wisconsin and, uh, Wisconsin.

Jumping right into Big Ten play has worked out just fine for the Boilermakers and Wildcats, a pair of mediocrities a year ago. For the Hawkeyes? No, not this year. Their 21-20 loss to Northwestern Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was un-Iowa indeed.

When do the Hawkeyes pass 51 times and rush 26 in a close game? When do they throw three interceptions in a second half? When do they blow a 17-0 lead at home, or anywhere?

Iowa players — about 30 of them — took knees during the national anthem. If that bugged you, a simple solution is to start your own private university and make your own rules for its football team. The kneeling that told this day’s enduring story was when Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey did it on the field with the ball in the game’s final minute. Victory formation, they call it.

It doesn’t take a lot of film study to realize the difference in the game was graduate transfer Ramsey making fewer mistakes and showing more poise than first-year starter Spencer Petras of Iowa.

Ramsey got picked off once in the fourth quarter himself before getting bailed out by Northwestern’s defense, but this is someone who has thrown exactly 1,000 passes for Big Ten teams, the first 952 with Indiana.

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Petras has two games under his belt, two games that were there for the taking and weren’t grabbed. Would Iowa be 2-0 right now were Nate Stanley still taking snaps here? Probably, but it’s irrelevant. Stanley’s time elapsed.

Enter Petras, thrown into the conference fires without a MAC team or a Wyoming to tune up against like Stanley had his three years as the starter. His accuracy wasn’t consistent, especially after halftime.

Whatever Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz did to persuade Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to abandon the run game, it was the right strategy.

“They’re a disciplined team, really well-coached,” Petras said. “Their defensive coordinator is smart. They had a really good game plan.”

“It’s tough right now,” said Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. “but (Petras) is going to get way more comfortable and the game’s going to come to him.”

Iowa’s offense, Smith-Marsette added, has “a lot of potential. We’ve just got to add production to it.”

Well, yes. The Hawkeyes’ touted collection of offensive weapons, with Smith-Marsette at the front of the line, was perhaps the biggest reason to be excited about the team in the preseason.

However, passes have to be catchable. Sam LaPorta is Iowa’s next great tight end, but two of Petras’ three picks were off-target bullets that caromed off LaPorta’s fingertips, and he couldn’t have caught either without some sort of Halloween witchcraft involved.

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“Spencer’s a two-game quarterback right now,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “so he’s a very young guy.

“This was not a fun experience, certainly, or a great experience in the second half. But he’ll grow from this because he’s so conscientious and he works well. He’ll be better for it. But boy, it’s hard in the process. We all know that.”

Oh, how quarterback play matters. Northwestern’s was dreadful last year and the Wildcats were 1-8 in the Big Ten. Ramsey hopped aboard, and they’ve gotten done what they’ve needed to get done so far.

Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes could only score touchdowns Saturday after Northwestern lost fumbles in its own territory. Those fumbles stopped coming after the first quarter. A second half with 104 yards and three turnovers isn’t a pretty thing for the Hawkeyes to carry around for the next week.

A joyless season? It’s way too early to say that. But getting eight games to play for a West Division title and being 0-2? Ferentz was right. Not a fun experience.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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