Dark days. There isn't a whole lot I can say about this game that Patrick didn't already cover in the immediate aftermath, but this was truly not only a butt-kicking of a game, it was an indictment of the state of the Iowa program.
Kirk Ferentz is a great football coach. It may not feel like it right now, but he is (or at least was). He's got a track record of success that few coaches in the Big Ten today can match; it's Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and maybe Jim Harbaugh right now. He will be immortalized by the Iowa program in one way or another once his time is up, and he'll have earned it. He is the dean of the Big Ten coaches for a reason.
Ferentz has long run a program that prided itself on a few basic but effective tenets: physicality, development, defense, ball control and superior special teams. Iowa was crushed in every one of those five phases on Friday. Every. single. one.
Physicality: Iowa's vaulted defensive line was gashed by Tennessee's front five, to the tune of 51 rushes, 283 yards and four touchdowns. Iowa rushed for 244 yards in return, but that was after Tennessee let its foot off the gas pedal; by the time the Volunteers were up 28-0, Iowa had 10 rushes for 15 yards and zero first downs. That total grew all the way to 53 yards by halftime.
Development: Iowa was missing zero starters and virtually nobody from its two-deep for the game, and 18 of the 24 starters (including both special-teamers) were either juniors or seniors. Tennessee, by comparison, started only 12 upperclassmen, and leaned heavily on freshmen throughout the course of the game. And the Volunteers flat-out pushed Iowa around. This was the best team Iowa could have put forward, and it didn't belong on the same field as Tennessee's gang of kids.
Defense: Iowa surrendered touchdowns on Tennessee's first four possessions and six of its first eight, at which point the game was long-since over. The Vols needed just 23 plays from scrimmage to go 258 yards in its first four touchdown drives.
Ball control: Iowa's first five drives, by comparison: 24 plays, 120 yards, four punts and one turnover on downs. Iowa's turnover margin on the year was -6, including an incredible 15 fumbles lost out of 21 (by comparison, opponents lost just three of their 11 fumbles). But ball control is about more than just turnovers (despite what's routinely drummed into quarterbacks' heads); it's about sustaining drives, letting your defense rest, and controlling the field position game. Iowa punted 65 times in 2014... and over half (36) came on three-and-outs, including three against Tennessee. That's very difficult to overcome.
Superior special teams: I almost don't want to bring up that horrific Jonathan Parker kickoff play, because to focus in on that lets the rest of what Iowa did on special teams off the hook. Iowa faced a crop of generally weak punters; its opponents' net punting average was 36.26, which would be 86th-best in FBS if it were a team. That should be easy to beat. And yet, Iowa's net punting average was a horrific 33.42, 117th out of 125 teams and better than only Northwestern in the Big Ten. Iowa tried six punts against Tennessee; none landed inside the 20, and the only punt that went over 40 yards (48) ended up as a touchback. Net punting average for the day: 30.5 yards. Oh, and this team has two punters on scholarship.
Iowa's field-goal kicking was a decent 12-for-17; opponents were 16-for-21. Iowa netted 38.3 yards per kickoff; opponents, 40.4. Iowa returned punts at a clip of 5.1 yards per; opponents, 15.1. It goes on and on.
So here's the question.
If Iowa's developed players can't beat the guys Tennessee is plucking right out of high school, if Iowa absolutely can't stop a lower-tier SEC program from what it wants to do, if Iowa can't take care of the little things better than its opponent.. what the heck is coming next? What's the light at the end of the tunnel?
That's not a rhetorical question. What is it we can point to and say, "well at least Iowa football was and will still be _____ in 2015"? Because right now, the only answer we can fill in is "facing a weak schedule," and that didn't exactly help matters in 2014.
Are you worried? You should be.