WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Indianapolis is just 65 miles from here, but it suddenly feels as far as India or Indonesia for Iowa’s football team.
That annual league-championship party in Indy the Big Ten throws on the first Saturday of December for its division-winners? The one the Hawkeyes looked like they had a fighting chance of attending after Wisconsin got taken down by Northwestern last week? Barring a set of circumstances that range from highly unlikely to downright peculiar, Iowa isn’t attending.
After Iowa’s 38-36 loss to Purdue Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz seemed to lay more blame on late-game officiating than anything his own team did or didn’t do.
Yes, holding penalties suddenly became a thing on Iowa’s last possession, twice. That slammed the brakes on the Hawkeyes’ last possession, enabling the Boilermakers to take over after a punt at the 50 with 4:30 left, trailing 36-35.
Yes, there was then a debatable pass-interference call on freshman cornerback Julius Brents in the end zone that not only gave Purdue a first down on its last drive, but a first down in field goal territory. It was a field goal Spencer Evans made from 25 yards with eight seconds left for the victory.
But there also was curious math from Ferentz that ended up denying his team the chance to go to overtime.
When the Hawkeyes answered a one-play, 82-yard Purdue touchdown drive with a five-play, 81-yard touchdown possession to cut the Boilers’ lead to 28-23, Iowa went for two points instead of one and got zero.
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Had there been 9:33 left in the game instead of the third quarter, the move would have made sense. But with most of the second half left to play, not so much.
Eventually, Iowa had a short touchdown drive set up by an Amani Hooker interception to go up 36-35 with 10:19 left in the game (instead of 37-35), and had no choice but to go for two points to get ahead by a field goal. That conversion try also failed, allowing Evans’ field goal to be a game-winner instead of a game-knotter.
This isn’t an overreach, looking too hard for some picayune thing to gnaw on after a defeat. Sure, Iowa would have won had its secondary not got scorched so often and its pass pressure been up to its usual standard. Sure, you could understand why Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase said “We left one out there, but we didn’t deserve to win. That’s on the defense, our group.”
Gervase owned it, though he had an interception deep in Iowa territory. If you want to throw shade at 18-year-old, first-year freshman cornerbacks Brents and Riley Moss, who have risen to challenges this season, you’re a tough cookie.
But there really is a big difference between pulling within four points in the third quarter and staying five back. When you’re down four, you can go up by a field goal with a touchdown and a PAT kick.
“Just basically figured we’re going to need points and I think it played out that way,” Ferentz said. “The more points, the better. That’s kind of what it was.
“I figured it was going to go beyond — this thing I thought was going to be in the 40s, quite frankly, at that point. We’re going to try to score every point we could.”
A guarantee: If the Los Angeles Rams score a touchdown with 9:33 left in the third quarter to pull within 28-23 of the New Orleans Saints Sunday and go for a 2-point conversion, Fox’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will question what Rams Coach Sean McVay is thinking before the ball is snapped.
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Yes, had Iowa converted one of its 2-point tries it probably would have gone to overtime and might now have a decent chance to be in Indianapolis on Dec. 1. Just like it might had it kicked the PAT after that third-quarter score when it should have.
There comes a time when “so close” turns into “so far away.” That’s how things look for Iowa now that it’s 3-3 in the conference following two straight one-score road losses.
Indianapolis-based stand-up comedian Scott Long (an Iowa native and UI graduate) has a CD called “Good Dad ... Not a Great Dad.” His beloved Hawkeyes are “Good Team ... Not a Great Team.”
Iowa got outplayed by a whisker, thanks largely to the talents of Purdue quarterback David Blough and his receivers. But the Hawkeyes’ coach gets no passing grade in Football Math 101.
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