Sometimes you lose. You get 60 minutes in a game. You get 12 games—13 if you're at least decent, maybe 14 or even 15 if you're great and lucky—in a season. You get four seasons in a career. That's it. So it's incumbent on a player to maximize that achingly finite career while he's in town, and it's incumbent on the coach to put each of his players in the best position to succeed.
We've complained about Kirk Ferentz on these pages quite a bit recently for game plans that don't do the Hawkeyes many favors. We've dinged Jake Rudock for his overly conservative passing and underutilization of his best targets.
But you look at what Iowa put forward on Saturday, and you look at Rudock and his 20-30, 311-yard, 2-TD performance, and what do you know? If anything, Iowa was as close to maximized on winning potential and game management as it's been all year.
And yet sometimes you lose. Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do, especially when the other team has the best guy on the field and lets him go to work. And sometimes—pretty often, actually—60 minutes of a physical edge beats 30 minutes of heroic play, which is what Iowa got in the second half.
I've never seen a better performance from a defense holding a running back to 200 yards in a game before. That sounds like faint praise, but really—holding Melvin Gordon to one big (OK, enormous) run and then 112 on his other 30 rushes was nothing short of spectacular, especially for a defense that has struggled against rushers like that all year, against the best tailback in college football. Gordon had 13 rushes of two yards or less, and every one of them stirred the crowd into a frenzy like Kinnick Stadium hasn't experienced in ages.
And yet he still got 200 yards, because he's Melvin Freaking Gordon, and even though he probably won't win the Heisman, he probably deserves it. That guy's a beast.
As for Iowa, what's there to be mad at? The first-drive fumble? Okay, but those things'll happen. The failed two-point conversion? Yeah, but it was a call that needed to be made (as was the first, which I certainly didn't expect from Ferentz) and two-pointers don't always work out; if they did nobody would ever kick the extra point. Hell, Ferentz even correctly noticed that 4th and 2 from the Iowa 39 down 19-3 was a situation that demanded going for it, and Iowa turned it into points.
And yet Iowa still lost. That'll happen.
If there's anything to be upset about, it's that the Big Ten dream is now dead, and it really doesn't need to be. If Iowa plays like this in every game, the Hawkeyes get easy wins against Iowa State and Maryland, and I'm not even sure they lose the Minnesota game. Maybe. Possibly. But not necessarily.
So that's what frustrates the most. There aren't a whole lot of opportunities for special seasons that fall into Iowa's lap like this. And Iowa is certainly capable as a team of taking advantage of those opportunities—or at least, so it demonstrated on Saturday. But since Iowa didn't take full advantage of the first 11 weeks, and since it took 30 minutes for the offense to wake up, the Hawkeyes sit at 7-4 (4-3) with tough Nebraska coming to town, and the Top 25 will just have to wait for another... well, how long do you want to guess?
Anyway. That might be grousing for the sake of grousing, in terms of what the takeaway from Saturday was. As for the game itself, it was nice to at least have a feeling that something like Penn State 2008 could happen again in Kinnick Stadium, that the magic hadn't been completely extinguished. It didn't end well, of course, but hey: sometimes you lose.