Sure, Iowa just lost to Arizona, 34-27. But how much do we actually know? What was so important about losing to Arizona? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
First, let's just get this out of the way. If you expect spittle-flecked hostility over the special teams errors and the offensive line's late collapse, I'm sure there's plenty of that on the, well, dumber Iowa websites and their message boards. In fact, mainly their message boards. And yes, those were some of the most horrid things we've ever seen as Iowa fans. But this loss was about more than just that.
Inevitable. In college football, it's foolish to say that when a team gets upset, everybody "should have seen it coming." If everyone should have seen it coming, then it wouldn't be much of an upset, now would it? So this is not to say that nobody should have expected Iowa to win. It was a sound logical decision, and it came close to being true Saturday.
But at the same time, the failures Iowa experienced Saturday were only surprising in their extent, not their nature. Iowa's very inexperienced offensive line struggles under late-game pressure? Well, yeah. That's going to happen. Four sacks on consecutive snaps is a little out of the ordinary, but with the game in the balance, Mike Stoops wanted to put the heat on Iowa's line, and it worked. Did it ever. Also, Iowa's running game struggling? We couldn't have seen Jewel Hampton's knee injury coming, of course, but we knew this team was going to need Brandon Wegher at some point, and Adam Robinson just isn't dynamic enough to make a real defense pay all by himself--especially since he's easily the weakest link of the three when it comes to blocking. Think Ricky Stanzi could have used Wegher or Hampton in to help block at some point during the 4th quarter?
Same goes with special teams. You can't expect Iowa to have a punt blocked AND a kick returned for a touchdown AND a missed extra point (though the missed PAT doesn't seem to have factored much into the game) all in the same game, but anyone paying attention since last year should have known these problems had a distinct possibility of cropping up again. Lo and behold.
Et tu, receivers? Yes, again, that last drive was awful--if, in retrospect, sort of the exact thing everyone spent the entire offseason worrying about. However, one could even make the case that the game swung more on a few costly errors of Iowa's wide receivers, and they were one of the unquestioned strengths of the team. I hesitate to put the blame on Marvin McNutt for not catching Stanzi's apparently overthrown deep pass on 3rd down on the first drive of the game (though I should point out I only caught one replay of it on a smaller split-screen while some Auburn guy rolled around--THANKS ESPN), so that stalled drive and ensuing blocked punt aren't really, y'know, on him. What IS on McNutt is missing that catch on the very next drive that ended up in Trevin Wade's hands going the other way to make it 14-0. For once, the term "Rick Six" was unfair, given the situation. Huge swing of momentum there.
One quarter later, Iowa had first and 10 in Arizona territory, and Stanzi had Derrell Johnson-Koulianos down the left sideline, wide open. Stanzi put it on him, it went through DJK's hands, incomplete, and Iowa would punt harmlessly three snaps later. Zero points, should have been seven.
Now, look. A conservative estimate of those plays would say there was a 14-point swing between teams there. Of course, if McNutt catches that bomb, or catches that throw on the next route, or DJK hangs onto the deep fade, there's really no telling how the rest of the game plays out. So this isn't to say Arizona deserved to lose. They earned a win. But man, did our receivers make it easier on Arizona in the first half. And it's a shame, too, because they also turned in some outstanding play during the second half. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be enough.
Speaking of making it easy on Arizona. Hey, here's a little list you might be interested in:
- 1st and 10, Arizona 21-yard line
- 4th and 6, Arizona 39-yard line
- 4th and 12, Arizona 40-yard line
- 2nd and 3, Iowa 48-yard line
Those are the ending destinations of four of Iowa's first-half possessions. Total points from those four possessions? Zero. ZEEEEERO. Wade's pick finished the first drive, Iowa punted on the middle two, and Iowa let the clock run out on the first half without a single shot at the end zone on the last one.
On the two Iowa drives that ended in punts, Iowa netted 19 and 20 yards; both times, Ryan Donahue put the punts into the end zone for a touchback. And after those two punts, Arizona needed three and two plays, respectively, to make it past Iowa's original line of scrimmage on fourth down. So with Arizona holding a lead and moving the ball with relative ease in the first half, what on earth was Kirk Ferentz doing letting those last three drives end without even an attempt at putting points on the board? Yes, we're disgusted at how Iowa's final "drive" of the game transpired. But that was just one drive--and it didn't have even a hint of the potential for scoring as the four drives listed above. You're down and you have the ball and good field position--do something with it!
But despite all that, now is not the winter of our discontent. Look, these bad games happen. They happen to really good teams every single year, and the day that a 7-point road loss to a ranked opponent two time zones away is "unacceptable for Iowa football" is the day that Iowa should just plain stop playing football because what's the damn point. This sport is fickle and cruel, even if it's usually so in Iowa's favor. This team still has the opportunity to run the table in the Big Ten and make it to Pasadena--and we're sure the coaches are keeping the players aware of that very fact.
Or, let's keep thinking big. In 2002, a mistake-filled, one-possession, September non-con loss knocked Iowa out of the polls, and they weren't back in the Coaches' Poll Top 25 until October. This time, same crappy loss, they're still in 18th place. If Iowa rips off nine straight wins again, who knows where they end up ranked after conference championship week? You ready to write that one off yet?
And finally, because I'm bitter and not done complaining. There were a litany of bad calls in the second half, and they weren't even largely in Arizona's favor. But there's one penalty on Iowa that was particularly galling, and even though it didn't really factor into the end of the game, I can't let it go unmentioned. Here's an EXCLUSIVE replay of Micah Hyde's "pass interference" in the third quarter. SEE IF YOU CAN SPOT THE CONTACT!
Fair? Where we're going, we don't need "fair."