Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31: Idiots on Parade

* That's not how Iowa is supposed to lose football games. Sloppy tackling? Mental mistakes? Lack of discipline? Iowa's supposed to be the smart, disciplined, mentally and technically sound team that doesn't make mistakes but waits for the other team to do so. That's the whole point of Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz: do the basic, foundational things well and then everything else will fall into place. Whoops.

* On the other hand, this was exactly how Iowa loses football games. Special teams gaffes? A late defensive collapse? I think we've seen that script before in, oh, about half of Iowa's losses from 2010 and 2011 (to be charitable). In the final two minutes alone, Iowa's special teams gaffes included a bizarrely short kickoff (yes, Meyer was kicking into the wind but his kick barely even made the 10-yard line), atrocious kickoff coverage (setting up CMU at their own 40-yard line), and Yet Another Fucking Onside Kick Recovery. I thought the officials did an absolutely abysmal job of managing the whole onside kick situation (and, at the game, no one had a fucking clue why it was taking them so long or why CMU got to re-kick it), but there's still no excuse for Iowa's reaction (or lack thereof) on the second onside kick. Henry Krieger-Coble watched the ball skip by him. Fucking absurd.

And the defense... For the first 28 minutes of the second half, the usual script we'd seen during the first three Phil Parker-coordinated games seemed to be playing out: make effective halftime adjustments and slow down the other team. For the first 28 minutes, mission accomplished. For the final two minutes... ugh. Complete and total implosion.

* The rebuilding blues. Entering the season, we knew (or should have known) that there would be growing pains this year. Two new coordinators, new faces up and down the lineup (especially in the trenches), a lack of experience at several key positions... I got that. I understood that. I knew there would be mistakes and errors and fuck-ups. I just didn't expect so many of them to come from upperclassmen.

I did not expect a fifth-year senior quarterback (and two-year starter) to be unable to see a wide open receiver for a sure touchdown (on that fourth down play in the second quarter, there was no CMU defender in the same area code as Martin-Manley) and instead lock in on a receiver who was wearing a CMU as a cape. I did not expect a fifth-year senior defensive end to give up a costly (to put it mildly) personal foul penalty at a time of the game when the absolute last thing Iowa could afford to do was give up free yards. I did not expect a senior cornerback (and three-year starter) or junior linebackers (and multi-year starters) to be so bad at the simple art of tackling. It's one thing if we see freshmen or sophomores making mistakes -- that's part and parcel of gaining experience. But when juniors and seniors keep fucking up... that's a big goddamn problem.

* Go for two, you fucking idiot. Hopefully Horace will be along later this week to discuss this decision in greater detail and provide some stat-based insight, but that being said... Kirk, go for two, you fucking idiot. Shortly before Weisman scored Iowa's final touchdown, my friend asked me if I thought Iowa should go for two if they scored a touchdown on the drive. I said yes, because the difference between being up 7 (guaranteed if they scored a touchdown) or 8 (if they scored a touchdown and kicked an extra point) was fairly marginal, while the difference between being up 9 (if they scored a touchdown and made the two-point conversion) was huge, since it would have made it a two-possession game.

The worst-case scenario if Iowa goes for two and fails is that they're up 30-23. If Central Michigan drives down the field and scores, the game is (probably) tied. (There's a chance the CMU coach could have decided to go for two and win it right there, though.) At that point, the game probably goes to overtime. (It doesn't seem likely that CMU would attempt an onside kick in a tie game, since failure to recover the ball would give Iowa possession at around midfield with an excellent chance to move into range for a game-winning field goal attempt. The best-case scenario if Iowa goes for two is that they're up 32-23 and it's a two possession game with two minutes to play, meaning CMU needs a virtual miracle to survive. As it happens, they did get that virtual miracle, but if Iowa had successfully converted the two-point play and everything else that happened ended up happening anyway (no sure thing, of course), Iowa still lands in overtime with a chance to win.

(EDIT: Except if Iowa had gone up 9, CMU wouldn't have gone for two after their touchdown, they would have just kicked the extra point and then tried to recover the ensuing onside kick. So if Iowa goes for two and succeeds and the rest of the end of game situation plays out they way it did, Iowa still loses, 33-31. I still think pushing for a two-score margin is the correct process, though. It requires CMU to (in two minutes) score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, move into scoring position again, and score a TD/FG to win. That should be difficult.)

But, look, hindsight aside, Ferentz should have gone for two there because it was the right fucking decision. The potential value of being up 9 points over being up 8 points is enormous, especially at that point in the game. And, oh yeah, you had an offensive line that was mauling CMU's defensive line at that point and a running back who was averaging 8.0 yards per carry -- you really didn't think they stood a good chance at getting the few measly yards necessary on that two-point play?

On the other hand, there were some against-type decisions that Ferentz made on Saturday that I was happy to see -- going for it on 4th-and-4 from the CMU 37 at the start of the second quarter, passing the ball and trying to score points in the final two minutes of the first half -- even if they weren't particularly successful. I hope the failure of those decisions (and the 10 CMU points they led to, in a way*) don't lead to Ferentz retreating further into his conservative shell. That would be a shame because the decision-making process there was fine -- they were acceptable risks to take (and, in the case of the 4th-and-4 play, should have resulted in a touchdown if Vandenberg had seen the outrageously open Martin-Manley) -- it's just that the results were poor.

* The decisions themselves didn't lead to those points -- poor defense on the ensuing drives (and a lousy Kornbrath punt after the aborted two-minute drive) led to those points. But it's not hard to guess that Ferentz might take a different message out of those decisions...

* The Invisible Hat. Through four games, C.J. Fiedorowicz has logged 13 catches for 122 yards and 0 TDs. At that rate, he's on pace for 39 catches for 366 yards this season. Just what we all expected out of him, right? Good job, good effort, Hat. To be fair to C.J., there are factors involved that are beyond his control. Watching the game in-person yesterday there didn't seem to be a lot of plays designed to feature Fiedorowicz. Nor did Vandenberg seem likely to look for him on most plays (he seems to fixate on Keenan this year the way he fixated on Marvin last year). But Fiedorowicz also rarely seemed to be putting himself into dangerous positions, working himself open, or forcing himself into the mix. He just seemed to... disappear on several plays. We spent all off-season hearing about how much he loved this offense, about what a weapon he would be this year, and about how much Greg Davis was excited about using him. The results through the first third of the season are pretty damn underwhelming.

* Hammer time. The lone bright spot from yesterday's game was (again) the punishing running of Mark Weisman, who ran for 217 yards and 3 TDs on 27 carries and left a trail of battered Chippewa defenders in his wake. He was extraordinary and while the same caveat we applied last week will still apply this week -- it's "just" Central Michigan, let's see him do it against better defenses -- it would be equally absurd not to recognize how impressive he's been or how encouraging his performances have been. It's not like 200-yard rushing performances grow on trees and while Weisman might not win many sprinting competitions, he's a decisive runner who hits the hole well, fights off initial contact extremely well, and has a punishing stiff-arm (just ask the CMU defender who got pushed five yards into the end zone on Weisman's second touchdown run). Call me crazy, but I think that's a skillset that could be useful. (Credit, too, to the offensive line who once again opened up several gaping holes for Weisman and did a solid job of getting to the next level and blocking linebackers on several occasions. Their play in the run game has been a very pleasant development the past few weeks and hopefully it's not entirely a function of the competition.)

In hindsight, if we wanted to quibble with Weisman's performance we could say that he should have tried to go down or go out of bounds (never mind; had a brain fart and forgot that would stop the clock) at the 1-yard line before scoring that final touchdown. That would have enabled Iowa to bleed more time off the clock and (likely) prevented CMU from having enough time to stage a comeback. Still, it's not Weisman's fault that the defense and special teams turned into an absolute dumpster fire over the final two minutes, so I'm pretty loathe to fault him for that decision. He scored a touchdown that gave Iowa breathing room -- that's good. Unfortunately everything that happened after that point was bad.

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