It's not bleak, but it's bleakish. The good news is Iowa played a game that poorly and wasn't punished for a loss for it. That's extremely fortunate, seeing as how there's maybe two games left on the schedule where Iowa can plausibly pull a stunt like this again. Against anyone in the Big Ten—even Purdue—that kind of sloppiness gets rewarded with an L. Iowa State too, probably. But here, it's just a win that was multiple scores closer than it had any right to be.
That's not to say Iowa looked bad from gun to gun, mind you. The bad plays were bad, but we're still talking about a game in which Iowa outgained its opponents by nearly 300 yards and had more than double the first downs. Missouri State converted one of 10 third downs and it didn't cross the 50 until late in the third quarter after a long kick return started a drive at the Iowa 45 (MSU celebrated the occasion with an immediate 15-yard penalty, but still). So yeah, this game was never in doubt.
But "never in doubt" just isn't going to cut it here. Not against a rinky-dink team like Missouri State. Not when you don't have an opportunity to sit the starters for a quarter. Not when you commit 11 freaking penalties against a freaking FCS team. Not when it's on you to prove that another 4-8 season isn't in the offing. This was the type of performance that bad teams have, and while good teams can have bad games, the evidence of Iowa being one of those good teams is wearing sort of thin.
Mashin'. The guard play needs to improve. This is not a post from 2008 basketball. Conor Boffeli is not a difference maker and Jordan Walsh isn't there yet. Neither is Andrew Donnal. Those last two guys are at least young, but Kirk Ferentz's "everyone plays guard at some point" offense needs to be able to put better starters out there.
That being said, hey, that was really a 296-yard rushing day for Iowa. Yes, it took 58 rushes to get there and it'd be nice to average more than 5.1 per if you can help it, but Iowa's back to having a system that, well, works. That's hugely important with Jake Rudock looking like Matt Saracen out there and struggling with reliability. If that can translate to over 4.0 yards per carry against Big Ten foes, Iowa can keep thinking about bowl bids.
But yeah, that zone right? Not a winner at this point.
ABC (Another Bad 'Ception). We're still not ready to call this A Problem For Jake Rudock yet, seeing as how he had another decent day through the air—19-28, 193 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt—but man, that's two games out of two where he threw a horrendous pass in the fourth quarter and got burnt for it. This time it was a pick-six to Rique Bentley, which is a great name, and that cut the lead back down to 21-14.
(Quick aside: Part of me thinks tackling NIU safety Jimmie Ward on that interception last week doomed Iowa. Ward had already brought the ball into field goal range, and the only way Iowa was going to get the ball back with any time to do anything is if NIU scored quick, like with Ward taking it to the house. The other part of me says "I'd rather take my chances with NIU's kicker missing from 36 yards than with Jake Rudock going 70 yards in a minute." What do you think?)
Maybe Iowa's receivers aren't doing Rudock any favors with their routes. Maybe Rudock's not seeing defenders very well. Maybe Iowa's offense is still a little too out-heavy and thus prone to jumped routes (though that was much more the case last season than this). Whatever. For whatever reason—and the reason is important, it's just not one we can diagnose yet—Jake Rudock has a case of the picksies. They peaked with Doolittle, by the way.
These are potentially disastrous mistakes. There's no good time to throw a pick-six, obviously, but it doesn't screw with your endgame nearly as much in the first quarter as it does late. If this keeps up, Iowa has really no choice but to adopt some Notre Dame-type situation and bring in another quarterback late. No, there's no Tommy Rees on Iowa's roster but there damn well had better be at least one quarterback who can go an entire fourth quarter without turning into Interception Claus.
But hey, 1-1. And the last two non-con opponents have losses to FCS teams on their resumes this year. Maybe things are looking up. Maybe.