Here we are, half way through the 2017 football season and the Hawkeyes are finishing up the bye-week. While that leaves little to overreact to from this week, it’s the perfect time to look back on what we’ve seen on the season as a whole. And oh baby is there plenty to overreact to there. How you choose to do that is totally up to you. Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, I’ve got you covered. Much like the remainder of this season, this week’s overreaction Monday is a bit of a choose your own adventure. Which path will you take? Which path with the Hawkeyes take to close out the year?
Coming into the year, I expected this to be a 7-8 win team. I think that was pretty reasonable. This is not the place to be reasonable. And after that game against Penn State, I was no longer reasonable. Were you?
At that point, my expectations had shifted. I felt like a team that was able to take a top-5 team in the nation to the wire was a team that was capable of doing something more than 7-8 wins. We had seen glimpses of things. No game showed us how good this team could be as a whole, but we saw the individual pieces. We saw the emergence of a young QB. We saw a trio of RBs capable of carrying a load. We saw our dynamic starting RB show the ability to turn the game on a single play. We saw our defense bend but not break. We saw them come up with big time turnovers. We saw enough to give me hope. Perhaps too much hope.
Because we also saw that defense give up 41 points to Iowa State. We saw them give up more than 500 yards of offense to Penn State. We saw them give up big chunk plays to just about every team they faced. The alarm bells were sounding, but the optimist in me kept them at bay.
I overlooked the complete lack of a running game. I dismissed the issues on the offensive line as something to keep an eye on, but something that would work it self out as the year progressed. As I said, I am an optimist.
Things changed following that trip to East Lansing. Again, there were flashes. The defense held their own. But it was hard to tell how much of that was solid defensive play vs. ineptitude on the part of the Spartans. And the offense looked rough. The running game, in particular was still a major concern.
After last week, I felt only slightly better. Sure, the Hawkeyes trounced the Illini, but it didn’t really feel like it for the first 3 quarters. I guess we should be used to that by now. I can’t recall the last time I felt totally comfortable a game was in hand under Kirk Ferentz before about the 6 minute mark in the 4th quarter (OK, there are a few of those out there, but not as many as we’d all like). And it was still just the Illini, so did it really change anything from that feeling we got in East Lansing?
So there I sat on Saturday morning, preparing for a pretty boring day of football. The matchups weren’t great and the Hawkeyes weren’t playing, but it was Saturday, there was football, and I had some assistance with the kiddos. Let’s. Go.
I had no expectations. No expectations for the games I was about to watch, and certainly no expectations for the Hawkeyes. They weren’t even playing. And yet, here I sit on Monday morning and I can’t help but feel a little down about things. The college slate turned out to be much more entertaining than anticipated. There were 7 top-25 teams that went down, 4 in the top 10. There were a couple more that went down to the wire.
As I look at all the teams able to pull off the upset, I can’t help but play the ”What if?” game. What if Amani Hooker had jumped with one arm to tip that game-winning pass from McSorley? What if Stanley was able to complete his pass to the wide open Matt VandeBerg instead of fumbling in the red zone against MSU? It’s really frustrating to know that so many other teams have been able to answer the what if question and we still find ourselves asking it.
Game of inches pic.twitter.com/O7A6eDJOyK— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 24, 2017
Coming up just short on a pair of games is all that stands between this unranked Iowa team, sitting at 4th in the West, and a potential spot inside the top 20, right atop the division alongside Wisconsin. More sobering is that Iowa came up short in a pair of games decided by a TD or less. I posted this in the comments of last week’s presser recap, but the one thing that truly defines the special seasons under Kirk Ferentz is the ability to win close games. In seasons where the Hawkeyes finished with 10+ wins under KF, Iowa is 20-4 in games decided by one score. The two close losses are a really strong indicator that no matter how well Iowa plays down the stretch, they are incredibly unlikely to finish with double digit wins.
Based on initial expectations, that shouldn’t be a shock. But as I said, thing changed with that PSU game. Expectations were raised and I think most of us, myself certainly, had our eyes set on the possibility of one of those crazy special years where things just work out. Where should they reset now?
Well, I think the original expectations are probably fair. As it stands today, the Hawkeyes are 4-2. If you would’ve told me or any sane person 7 weeks ago that we would be sitting at 4-2 right now, we would’ve taken it in a heartbeat. If you would’ve told me we would be looking at a starting QB with nearly 1300 yards and 15 TD passes to only 2 INTs, I would have told you you were nuts. If you would have told me we would have gone without a 100-yard rusher in half the games and still would be 4-2, I would have thanked my lucky stars.
And yet here we are. Here we are at 4-2 and it feels just sort of dissatisfying, right? It’s down right frustrating to look at the schedule and see that those two losses came on a last second score to lose by two to the #2 team in the country at home and a brutal performance on the road at the #18 team in the country that was still only a 1-score loss. It’s flat out infuriating to look at the various polls and see an Iowa State team nobody gives the Hawkeyes any credit for beating in Ames, playing their style of game, sitting ahead of Iowa in votes.
Perhaps it’s so frustrating because you can see what could have been and at the same time see what could be. Despite being 4-2, all those same what-if games could be played in reverse. What if they don’t pull out the OT win in Ames? What if Wyoming completes that wide open TD pass when the game was still close? What if their punter doesn’t decide to kick air? This team is just as close to 3-3 or 2-4 as they are to 6-0. That’s the way it is under Kirk Ferentz, for better or worse. Mostly it’s been better, but there have been some of those worse years. Is this one of those years?
So far, it’s a mixed bag, but the rest of the way gets hairy. Following this bye week where we watched so many other teams finish the job in their upsets, Iowa will get back into action next week in Evanston. That’s a place that has historically not been tough to win, but under Pat Fitzgerald, the Wildcats have been a major thorn in the side of Iowa. Then you get what is sure to be a Minnesota team just as fired up as PJ Fleck on a 4:30 am run.
Obligatory PJ Fleck clip:
PJ Fleck experiences all the emotions pic.twitter.com/Q7JAw0yoHE— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 15, 2017
Manage to get all the way up to 6-2 and people might start to notice. That will be just in time for OSU to come to town. That’s the same OSU that Kirk Ferentz has beaten just once and Iowa has beaten only 4 times the last 40 years. No time to recover from that one, the Hawkeyes travel to Madison to take on a top-5 Wisconsin team the very next week. Then there’s those last two games. You get Purdue at home, and this isn’t Purdon’t. This is a team that will be contending in the West as long as they can hold on to Jeff Brohm.
And then there’s Nebraska. Ahhhhh Nebraska. They look like a steaming pile of garbage right now. They couldn’t stop a bike with no wheels. But we’ve seen them use the Iowa game as a measuring stick for where their program is. That team may have given up on Mike Riley long before Black Friday, but they will still be dangerous in Lincoln (quite honestly, this looks like the easiest game left on the schedule, but it’s still a road game against a team with talent on the roster).
So where do the Hawkeyes go from here? Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know what direction they’ll go. I don’t know if they’ll look like 2008 any more than they will look like 2012. Do you?
If you can sit here and tell me we’ll be 4-2 in the back half, I’ll be just as happy as if you had told me we would be 4-2 in the front half of the year. Just don’t go changing my expectations on me again.
Which adventure are you choosing this Monday? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Has the season met (exceeded or fallen short of) your expectations? It’s overreaction Monday, don’t hold back!
Happy Monday. Go Hawks. Let’s get back to football.