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Nebraska 13, Iowa 7: The End Arrives

This season is over. Thank God.

Matthew Holst

James Vandenberg's first pass in an Iowa uniform was intercepted by Northwestern. James Vandenberg's final pass in an Iowa uniform was intercepted by Nebraska. As poetic flourishes go, that's not a particularly good one, but maybe it's a fitting way to tie off this current run for Iowa football. Before James Vandenberg entered that game against Northwestern in 2009 Iowa had rattled off 13 straight wins and risen to #4 in the country. Since that game kicked off, Iowa has gone 21-21 and just 11-16 in Big Ten games.

To be abundantly clear, that mark is not entirely Vandenberg's fault by any stretch of the imagination. For one thing, he barely even played in the 13 games in 2010 that that streak encompasses. (Of course, that also means that if you only look at games where Vandenberg played a substantial portion of the snaps, Iowa's record drops to 12-15, 7-12 in B1G games.) For another thing, blaming one player -- even a player as important as the quarterback -- for those losses is the height of idiocy. Vandenberg has been victimized by poor play by his teammates and by poor decisions and plans by his coaches. That said, he also hasn't done much to help his own case with his play, either.

In a way, it was a touch too cruel for the final offensive play of the game -- and Iowa's 2012 season -- be the Vandenberg pass that was intercepted. It would have been far more fitting if the final offensive play had been something like an incomplete pass to a receiver running a three-yard route on 4th and 5: a terrible idea badly executed. Alas. As a game-wide performance, though, this was the cherry on top of the shit sundae that was the 2012 Iowa offense. Remarkably, 7 points was not the absolute low point for the Iowa offense this year (they put up only 6 points against Iowa State, remember) but it was stunningly inept. It also completed the bizarre -- and wholly unwelcome -- trend that Iowa perpetuated almost all season: scoring less than their opponent's average mark for points conceded.

WEEK 1 -- Northern Illinois -- 18 points (NIU scoring defense average: 18.5)
WEEK 2 -- Iowa State -- 6 pts (ISU scoring defense average: 22.6)
WEEK 3 -- UNI -- n/a (there's no point comparing Iowa's output to a defense that played primarily FCS offenses)
WEEK 4 -- Central Michigan -- 31 points (CMU scoring defense average: 34.5)
WEEK 6 -- Minnesota -- 31 points (Minnesota scoring defense average: 23.5)
WEEK 7 -- Michigan State -- 19 points (MSU scoring defense average: 16.9)
WEEK 8 -- Penn State -- 14 points (PSU scoring defense average: 18.9)
WEEK 9 -- Northwestern -- 17 points (jNW scoring defense average: 23.5)
WEEK 10 -- Indiana -- 21 points (Indiana scoring defense average: 33.4)
WEEK 11 -- Purdue -- 24 points (Purdue scoring defense average: 28.5)
WEEK 12 -- Michigan -- 17 points (Michigan scoring defense average: 18.1)
WEEK 13 -- Nebraska -- 7 points (Nebraska scoring defense average: 24.0)

The only two games where the Iowa offense actually scored more than the points conceded average for their opponents were Minnesota (where Iowa needed a trick play and a pick-six to hit 31 points) and Michigan State (where Iowa needed two overtimes to hit the lofty heights of 19 points). They made bad defenses look good -- repeatedly. The Iowa offense scored 3 or more touchdowns in precisely three games this season (UNI, Central Michigan, Minnesota). In Big Ten play, they cracked 20 points without the aid of a defensive touchdown only once (against Minnesota). The 2012 Iowa offense ended the season with 26 touchdowns and 232 points, a scintillating average of 19.3 points per game. The 2007 Iowa offense, by comparison, ended the season with 28 touchdowns and 222 points, a scorching average of 18.5 points per game. This offense has been... I don't even know... embarrassing? Pathetic? Abysmal? All of the above?

The defense, aided by the wind, actually had one of its best games of the season by far. They held Nebraska to just 13 points and 263 yards of offense. Taylor Martinez went just 8/14 for 63 yards. Nebraska ran for 200 yards, but on a whopping 53 carries. The defense has been a deserving whipping boy for several of Iowa's recent losses, but after a lousy opening drive (where they still managed to hold Nebraska to a field goal) they played well enough to enable Iowa to pull off the upset yesterday. Well, aside from the fact that they didn't score a touchdown -- shame they didn't know that was part of their job description now.

But this game... this fucking game... what more is there to say about this game?

* Iowa recovered Nebraska fumbles in the vicinity of midfield on back-to-back possessions... and turned them into a turnover on downs and a punt.

* In the first half, Iowa punted on the Nebraska 31 yard line to gain a whopping 11 yards of field position.

* Iowa bungled the clock management at the end of the half -- highlighted by an illegal substitution penalty after a timeout -- and ended up with a missed field goal for their trouble.

* In the fourth quarter, at midfield, with less than half of the quarter remaining and the wind at their backs, Iowa ran up the gut for 1 yard... on 3rd and 4. They promptly punted on the next play.

This game was a remarkable display of incompetence, from the players and (especially) the coaches. In that regard, maybe it really was the most fitting way to end this miserable season.

Go away, Iowa football. I think we need some time apart right now.