* Just like the bad old days. If I hadn't seen Paul Rhoads punching himself in the dick to celebrate this win after the game, I would have sworn Dan McCarney was still roaming the Iowa State sidelines because this was a Danny Mac special. A fired-up team flying around the field with emotion and intensity oozing out of every pore? That executed at a higher level than previous evidence suggested was possible? I have seen this script before. I didn't like it then and I like it less now. After the beatdowns of the last two years, we assumed that Ferentz had "figured out" the ISU rivalry, but yesterday's loss undid that progress in spectacular fashion. Ferentz's inability to consistently prepare Iowa for games is a frustrating mystery. He's remarkably good at bowl prep (ever since the '03 Orange Bowl) and consistently has Iowa raring to go against many upper echelon Big Ten teams (Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan for the most part, etc.) but he consistently fields flat teams that struggle to match the focus, passion, and intensity of "lesser" opponents like Iowa State, Northwestern, Indiana, etc. If he can't solve that mystery, Iowa's doomed to continue to endure losses like this year in and year out.
* Steele Jantz outplayed James Vandenberg. Raise your hand if you thought that would happen. Outside of the mouthbreathers at Cyclone Fanatic, I don't think anyone thought that was even a possibility. We praised Vandenberg after his solid performance in miserable conditions last weekend and he got off to a good start again here: he went 6/8 for 78 yards and a TD on Iowa's first two drives, which led to ten Iowa points. Then he went 10/20 for 129 yards the rest of the way. We just ended a three-year relationship with a bipolar quarterback, but it looks like we might be replacing one bipolar passer with another because this game was full of Good Vandy and Bad Vandy. Good Vandy showed up early and was stellar: the pass he dropped into Davis' hands down the sideline, the touchdown he threw to Martin-Manley and the pass he threw to Fiedorowicz were very well-thrown passes. But Bad Vandy spent a lot of time on the field, too: he also threw more than a few downright hideous passes. Iowa needs to see a lot more Good Vandy going forward.
On the other hand, Jantz was simply superb: 24/36 for 271 yards and 4 TD (and zero INTs), along with another 36 yards on the ground. And those numbers don't come close to conveying the ground he covered while scrambling around to elude Iowa's defense (PAIN PAIN PAIN). Nor do they describe how inch-perfect some of his passes were, something no one would have forseen after his performance against UNI a week ago. Iowa State fans have been comparing him to their last great quarterback, Seneca Wallace, but yesterday he had more in common with a former Iowa quarterback: with his fancy footwork to escape defenders and knack for making big plays downfield he looked a lot like a bigger, bro-ier Drew Tate. Either way, he was absolutely spectacular on Saturday and Iowa State needed every drop of that excellence.
* "YOU PLAY TO... go to overtime?" Kirk Ferentz has either never heard Herm Edwards' most famous quote or thinks it's a load of hogwash because for the second time in three years he took a knee and opted for overtime rather than taking his chances with a potential game-winning drive. The decision in the '09 Ohio State game has been discussed to death and no doubt this one will be as well. There may be no empirically right answer to the question; hell, proponents of either side could point to other games involving Big Ten teams on Saturday night as evidence to support their argument. Indiana got the ball in a tie game with a minute and change to go and attempted to drive for a winning score, only to turn the ball over deep in their own territory and give up a game-winning field goal. Meanwhile, Michigan and Notre Dame combined for 21 points on three touchdowns in the final 1:12 of the game (although, yes, the situations weren't 100% comparable since at no point were they tied late in the game) as both offenses marched up and down the field.
That said, there were plenty of compelling reasons to attempt a game-winning drive on Saturday rather than simply sitting back and playing for overtime. Iowa had two timeouts and 1:17 to go, not to mention a stopped clock at every first down -- that's a virtual eternity in college football. They'd also driven 80 yards just a few minutes earlier in the quarter for the go-ahead touchdown. They didn't need to go that far at the end of the game, either -- just 50-60 yards would have gotten them within range of a potential game-winning field goal. A field goal which would have had a great chance of being successful, given Mike Meyer's strong form throughout the game (except on kickoffs). He'd already booted an impressive 50-yard bomb earlier in the game. There's also the (not so) slight matter of situational awareness: Iowa State's last four drives of regulation had ended in two touchdowns and two missed field goals and all had involved sustained drives by the ISU offense. The last punt Iowa had forced was early in the second quarter. Taking the game to overtime and trusting the defense to make a stop was questionable at best, downright insane at worst. Finally, at some point you simply need to let your players know that you have faith in them to make plays and win games. This is the second time now that Ferentz has taken the ball out of Vandenberg's hands rather than give him a chance to lead Iowa on a potential game-winning drive; the fact that he can do that and still issue quote after quote indicating his firm belief in Vandy is one hell of an act of cognitive dissonance.
* My kingdom for a defense. Steele Jantz was brilliant yesterday and it would be churlish in the extreme to deny that; he played very well and Iowa State (deservedly) won. All the same, there's no getting around the fact that his stellar performance was aided and abetted by an Iowa defense that was dreadful. Two of the best defenses of the last few years have been TCU and Iowa; if TCU had their "the emperor has no clothes" moments last week against Baylor, then this week's debacle in Ames was Iowa's moment of humiliating and revelatory nudity. It goes beyond the most obvious numbers of disgrace like the score (which was still pretty awful; the 44 points Iowa gave up yesterday were the most they've conceded since the disaster in the desert against Arizona State in 2004) or Jantz's stat line, though. The secondary (and Greg Castillo in particular) has taken a lot of scorn for their efforts yesterday and not without reason: they too often failed to make simple plays and were never able to make a big, game-changing play (a marked change from 2009-2010, when the Iowa defensive backs feasted on Iowa State quarterbacks).
Yet we can't discuss their performance without also recognizing that they were left in coverage for huge swaths of time, relatively speaking -- when you give the offense over five seconds on a play (as Iowa did far, far too often yesterday), even the best coverage will begin to break down. (And, coverage-wise, this is almost certainly the weakest unit Iowa has fielded since 2007.) To me, the bigger culprit in the defense's failure yesterday was the defensive line. Too often they couldn't generate any pressure on Jantz and when they did manage to flush him from the pocket, they couldn't catch him, leaving him free to scramble away and find a receiver downfield for yet another back-breaking play. They weren't great in run support, either: they allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second-straight week (Shontrelle Johnson had 108 yards on 18 carries) and were repeatedly burned on zone-read plays to the outside. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the pass rush (or lack thereof) was the fact that Iowa couldn't generate much of a rush even when they tried different things: they blitzed more yesterday than I can recall them doing in any game over the last few years... and it still didn't work (outside of one nice sack from Christian Kirksey, the unquestioned defensive MVP yesterday).
* No one knows what will happen next. Still, for all the doom and gloom that fills our corner of Blogfrica right now, it's just one loss. There are still ten games to go. Anyone who claims to know how the rest of the season will play out is either an oracle or a filthy liar. And "oracle" is just a fancy name for a filthy liar. History certainly isn't much of a guide. Iowa lost to Iowa State in 2002 and went on to win the conference and play in the Orange Bowl. Iowa lost to Iowa State in 2007 and went on to go 6-6 and miss out on a bowl game. Iowa beat Iowa State in 2009 and went on to narrowly miss out on winning the conference and played in the Orange Bowl. Iowa beat Iowa State in 2006 and went on to implode down the stretch and limp into a bowl game at 6-6. And so on. The result of the Iowa State game is not a reliable indicator of the final outcome an Iowa season.
Granted, the more notable concern is not that Iowa lost to Iowa State, it's how they lost -- with a mobile quarterback shredding their defense. It doesn't take an oracle to see that that's a recipe for potential disaster down the road, given a schedule that includes notable mobile quarterbacks like Dan Persa, Denard Robinson, and Taylor Martinez. But there again we run into the problems of accurately predicting the future. Will Robinson and Martinez still be healthy and effective when Iowa plays them in November? Will Persa be recovered from his Achilles injury when Iowa plays Northwestern next month? Will the Iowa defense continue to play as poorly as they did yesterday for the rest of the season? We can't answer any of these questions. As college football fans we have an annoying tendency to obsessively try to predict the future (see: the ubiquity of bowl projections -- even before a single game is played!), a feat which we are consistently unable to do with any sort of reliability. So, please, spare us all the bitter predictions of a 4-5 win season; they don't carry any more predictive value than chipper predictions of a 9-10 win season would have if Iowa had won 35-7.