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The Morning After — Michigan State 17, Iowa 10

Let’s talk about this one.

Iowa v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

You can blame Kirk Ferentz. You can blame Brian Ferentz. You can blame Nate Stanley. You can blame Akrum Wadley, the Iowa offensive line, Colten Rastetter, the Hawkeyes’ wide receivers, Michigan State punter Jake Hartbarger, God, literally anyone. You can blame and blame and blame and blame until you’re hoarse and spitting blood.

Regardless of who you’re blaming for Iowa’s 17-10 loss to Michigan State — a game the Hawkeyes could have, and should have won — one simple fact remains.

This is who the 2017 iteration of the Iowa Hawkeye football team is.

Iowa struggles to run the ball. Fact. Iowa struggles to consistently pass the ball. Fact. Iowa plays inspired and good defense. Fact. Iowa struggles with field position. Fact. Iowa has talent in skill positions but struggles to get it all going at the same time. Fact. Iowa has offensive line issues. Fact.

I’m throwing out absolutely everything that happened in the three non-conference games. Just like every other year, it isn’t until Big Ten play when we finally get a true grasp of who exactly Iowa is.

I asked the question “Who are the 2017 Iowa Hawkeyes?” two weeks ago. Now I know. And to be quite honest, this was about in the lower-high range of expectations for this season.

That expectation was to end up either 6-6 or 7-5.

17 minutes and 45 seconds into this game I was actually feeling okay. It was at this moment Akrum Wadley crossed the goal line after a nine-yard touchdown.

It was a beautiful play.

Keegan Render and Alaric Jackson make great blocks, T.J. Hockenson does a good job on the defensive end. Bang. Touchdown.

At this point, Iowa was down 14-7 and it felt like it would be a pretty reachable goal to at least reach double-digit points. As it turns out, that would be quite a bit easier said than done.

I mean just look at these final abbreviated stats and tell me where you see positivity, besides what Iowa was able to do on defense. Tell me how I’m supposed to feel good about that.

Fumbles (Iowa had four total, losing two), bad offense, and absolutely atrocious field position ended any chance the Hawkeyes had at winning this game. Blame who you want but those three things were the catalysts for Michigan State.

Is there really a lot more to say? The fake field goal was cool. Iowa’s punting sucked, which plays into losing the field position game.

Iowa couldn’t run the ball, and that’s something I plan on digging into during Monday’s film room. T.J. Hockenson was the leading receiver, yardage wise. That’s the second week in a row a non-wide receiver has held that designation.

This game, really, was just a whole lot of disappointing.

I think 2015 gave us all unrealistic expectations when it came to Iowa football.

Maybe I’m off here — and seriously, feel free to disagree with me on this — but I think between the new facilities and the improved recruiting numbers and being a play away from the College Football Playoff it set us up for a lot of disappointment. Like, all of the sudden it just felt like to me there was this feeling Iowa was going to be in this conversation every year and was suddenly going to win everything.

The 2015 season came down to a game against Michigan State which is why I’m bringing this up. I’ve watched that Tevaun Smith touchdown probably 50 times over the past week. I’ve been giving the whole day of the Big Ten Championship a lot of thought. The crowd. The striping of the stadium. Gameday. Falling in love with Indianapolis. Being inside Lucas Oil.

It’s a great, nostalgic feeling that is my best memory during my years in college.

Then, the 2016 season happened. Dreams of a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game. What I would call expectations of a 9 or 10 win season. And yet... if it wasn’t for Iowa getting its shit together over the final three regular season games, last year would have been an unmitigated disaster.

And even after losing C.J. Beathard and a host of other cogs off that team, I still saw predictions of an 8 or 9 win season. Go look at the schedule. I’ll wait.

Tell me where Iowa gets four or five wins off the remainder of their schedule. Ohio State is going to pound sand, as the Hawkeye’s Kinnick mojo was used up against Penn State. Wisconsin still looks beatable, but after Iowa’s display on Saturday I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to do much in Camp Randall.

Nebraska has showed signs of not being terrible and even Purdue (a game we thankfully get in Kinnick) is going to be a difficult contest. Minnesota and Northwestern look like wins, but those are rarely easy.

Iowa could very well be sweating to get bowl eligible.

Look, I’m not trying to be a miserable ass with all of this or even trying to overreact (that’s JPinIC’s job), I’m just going to preach patience. I’m not going to tell you everything’s going to be okay, because I’m a realist and am not even sure it will be.

The Hawkeyes aren’t a team that reloads, it’s a team that rebuilds. There’s positives and negatives to this. On one hand, with patience and hard work comes good things. At least that’s what growing up in Iowa taught me.

It’s like growing sweet corn or any delicious fruit, grain, or vegetable. It’s not going to be ready right away, but when it’s ready... it’s going to taste damn good.

Remember: Iowa started it’s 2008 season 0-2 in conference play. Think about how the rest of that year and then what happened after. Growth really does happen.

On the other hand, waiting sucks. You have to sit through seasons like this, when you KNOW there are better things coming.

Or, at least, the hope that there are better things coming — that’s what keeps me going.

Hope is a powerful force.

Blame isn’t.

You can get as angry as you want that Iowa lost a football game against Michigan State. I’m disappointed too. It hurt losing to Penn State last week, it hurt in the Big Ten Championship in 2015 and it’s hurt every time Iowa’s dropped a game, ever.

That’s football (fandom).

This season and this weekend, however, reminded me just why I love the Hawkeyes so damn much. First, of course, the piece Tom Rinaldi did on The Wave.

I also want you to read Marc Morehouse’s terrific piece he put together detailing something extraordinarily personal.

At some point you realize half this stuff doesn’t even matter. The wins, the losses. It’s ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, I want Iowa to win the rest of its games and Akrum Wadley to gain more yards and Nathan Stanley to stop overthrowing his damn wide receivers. I want the defense to stay amazing and for us to punt better.

But if you lean on blame and negativity, you’re in for a rotten life. This is a lesson I’ve personally had to learn and something I struggle with to this day. It’s easier to be angry at the world than it is to take stock of what’s actually important and do what you can to improve things.

Yes, Iowa lost. No, it wasn’t fun. Blame whomever you want. Just remember, this is just a game played with a little brown ball and there are far, far more important things to be upset about.