Must be nice. Well, we saw Iowa's best game against a clearly superior opponent in years, probably since the last trip to Columbus, where the Buckeyes prevailed in overtime. The Hawkeyes didn't take this one to extra frames, but they did take a lead into the locker room at half and stay tied going into the fourth quarter. That's a pretty remarkable achievement considering the stellar work Ohio State did on offense. The Buckeyes ground out 495 yards in nine drives, turning the ball over never* and punting never, which is a pretty great formula for victory.
*Why do we call it a turnover on downs if it doesn't count as a turnover? Thanks Oba[NO POLITICS]
But even as Iowa built its 17-10 lead, converting third down after third down and scoring on each of its first three drives, there was a troubling sense of dread, because Iowa was effectively bumping up against its ceiling against this Buckeye team, and it wasn't pulling away. Even with the offense looking as good as it ever has under Greg Davis, it was still encountering multiple opportunities for the Buckeyes to stop the drive, and it wasn't chewing up yardage in big chunks at a time. You'd hope that's sustainable, but the moment it wasn't, OSU was more than happy to take the lead.
Slow and steady wins the race, except when it doesn't, because that's when you've lost to fast and steady.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 21, 2013
And that's the bummer: Ohio State didn't give the game away, and when you're at the No. 4 team's house and it's playing competent, smart ball... you're pretty much boned. Iowa was prepared, focused, sharp, everything you can ask those guys to do. But Braxton Miller did Braxton Miller things. Carlos Hyde did Carlos Hyde things. And Iowa just doesn't have a Braxton Miller or Carlos Hyde.
Moreover, the way Kirk Ferentz recruits, it's hard to tell if he even wants a Braxton Miller or a Carlos Hyde.
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock on Braxton Miller: "It must be nice to run around like that."— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) October 20, 2013
So we're forced to watch Miller reverse field as many times as he needs to in order to get separation from Iowa's defenders, and it's not that many times because Iowa's defenders are considerably slower than Miller. We see defensive linemen just try to stay in front of him instead of lunging for a tackle, because good lord, if you're 280 pounds and not a physical freak of nature, why would you even try? And that's the right move. You can either bracket him and contain him in a certain area, or you can try to be a 2-star hero and fall on your face as Miller dances right by you, grateful for the hole in the field you've opened up by thinking you've got a play. You do the best you can. Miller beats you anyway. So it goes.
Two weeks ago, the takeaway was that Iowa wouldn't face another defense like Michigan State's, and Ohio State's most certainly is not Michigan State's. The team certainly looked more prepared to play, but the reality is that Iowa looked better on offense because Ohio State's defense is a mess. Likewise, Iowa's not going to face an offense like Ohio State's anymore. So before you start tearing out your hair about Iowa giving up 273 yards on the ground, just realize that that's not going to happen against Northwestern. Not because Ferentz is "going to fix everything" or whatever, it's, y'know... just Northwestern.
Still, yeah, it sucks to see the Hawkeyes playing an opponent and looking at one aspect of that opponent and thinking "man, that's way beyond what Iowa has, I hope we can figure out a way to overcome that but if not, welp." It's probably how Iowa State feels most of the time. You're proud of your team no matter what and you muster up all your optimism every Saturday, but then you see the other team play at a level your team can't, and through the disappointment and lament, all you can think is, "man... must be nice."