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The Optimist and Pessimist’s Guide to Iowa Football’s win over Ohio State

A great win is a great win...or is it? Your optimist’s, and pessimist’s, guide to Hawkeye fandom following the blowout win over Ohio State.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Tuesday, and the dust is finally starting to settle on Iowa’s 55-24 slaughter of the Ohio State Buckeyes from last weekend. There’s no question that this was the Hawkeyes’ best performance of the year in every facet, and the highlights show it.

I loved everything about this game. But over the years, the Hawkeyes have hardened my heart when it comes to big wins such as this, and this week’s game was no exception. As you can tell by his Overreaction Monday post, JPinIC thinks the Ohio State game was the beginning of wonderful things for the rest of the season (and beyond). I’m not as hopeful.

And so we debate: what does this game mean for the rest of 2017 Iowa football season?

The Optimist (JPinIC)

What does this game mean for the rest of the season? Well, as a coworker so aptly put it to me Monday morning, “not a damn thing.” But it does give us a glimpse into the potential of this team. The woes of the offense have been discussed about as much as anything else on this site over the last five weeks, and for good reason. But what we saw Saturday was a coming out party of sorts.

Most importantly, I don’t think we actually saw anything new. Rather, what we saw Saturday was a lot of what we’ve seen in spurts throughout previous games - the first drive against Minnesota, for example, or the drive before half at Northwestern or really most of the Iowa State game. We saw early down passing and Brian Ferentz isolating the mismatches his personnel can create to take advantage.

What was new was a commitment to doing that for a full 60 minutes. There was no taking the foot off the gas. There was no effort to deviate and re-commit to the run. It was as if the staff assumed (like most fans) that the defense couldn’t possibly hold up against that potent OSU offense and the offense would need to pound the throttle all game. It was maybe the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. And it shows what this team is capable of when the staff commits to scoring points and the players on the field don’t shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, dropped passes or missed assignments. If they come out with anything resembling what we saw Saturday, I don’t know how this team loses again this year.

The Pessimist (Matt Cabel)

No doubt Saturday was the best we’ve seen this Iowa offense play this season. But I find myself agreeing with your coworker that this win doesn’t mean a damn thing. At least, not right now. Yes, it has only been a few days, and we saw the offense score 40+ against Iowa State (OT notwithstanding)... and then the points started decreasing from there, and lack of offensive productivity were the reason for two winnable games that would have changed the course of this season.

As the second half started on Saturday and Iowa came out and immediately got a 3-and-out, I was worried that the game had ended, and that the offense had done all it could. I’m glad I was wrong.

But I’m worried that Iowa will come out and lay another egg on Saturday against the Badgers. The potential is certainly there. This team, and in particular Nate Stanley, pulled off some plays on Saturday that I never thought were possible from this team, period, let alone against Ohio State.

But, for the second year in a row, the only potential I’m seeing now as a result of a Top-5 upset win is the potential for another blowout bowl loss in early January.

The Optimist

Listen, the potential for a collapse is certainly there. Even the most optimistic among us Hawkeye fans is always well aware that at any moment the rug could (and likely will) be swept out from under us. So I get the constant fear of a return to the norm. I felt the same thing much of Saturday.

But wasn’t Ohio State the ideal game for Kirk Ferentz to employ the age-old tactic of controlling the clock, shortening the game and not taking any chances ever? They did the opposite of that. There is no reasoning for them to do the opposite of KF’s instincts in that game, have it work to perfection, and then immediately go back to the old way. Not with Wisconsin coming up this week.

I think Ohio State was the coming out party for Brian. Not necessarily that he pulled out all the stops, but in a game where EVERYONE was counting out the Hawkeyes, there was nothing to lose. So he got the green light to attack it his way. It worked and now, in a world where the Captain’s main goal is to show the administrative brass and the whole world that his son is capable of being a head coach, I think he lets him keep working that magic.

Beyond this week, I don’t think it really matters what they throw at Purdue and Nebraska, they should score 40+ without much effort (I know, it’s nuts following the output we saw the last couple weeks but look at those defenses!). From there, I just trust the horses to deliver in a bowl game.

The Pessimist

I’m going to spend all week hoping that this was a turning point for the offense. But I just have a nagging feeling that Iowa will come out on Saturday in Camp Randall and run a stretch right and things will be back to normal.

Let’s say Iowa wins out. We heard from our friend BoilerHawk yesterday that returning to Indianapolis is probably unlikely (but still possible!), so there will be ample time to prepare for whatever opponent and destination comes the Hawkeyes way.

But what have we seen this year that makes it different? Last year, the Michigan win was huge, but it filled me with a sense of dread because I knew it would propel the team into a bowl against an SEC team that would dominate it. And well, look what happened against Florida, a team that couldn’t score all last season, and still can’t score this season. And yet, they torched the Hawkeyes.

Yes, this is a new team with a stronger defense. But it’s been nearly seven years since the Hawks have tasted the sweet taste of a bowl victory. This is a program that has a beast on its back, and honestly, I think the best medicine for this team, and this program, is a bowl victory. And let’s face it, a 9-win team is probably going to be outmatched against its bowl opponent.

If I could trade this weekend’s win for a bowl win, I would.

The Optimist

That’s an intriguing proposition and one I would have to strongly consider, but not one I think needs to be made. The major difference between this season and last is the passing game. According to the amazing work by SBNation’s own Bill C, the Iowa passing attack ranks 20th in the county in Passing S&P+ (I’ll let you do your own homework on what exactly that stat entails, but suffice to say it’s a measure of how good a team is). They rank 59th in Rushing S&P+. A year ago the Hawkeyes were 74th in Passing S&P+ and 31st in Rushing S&P+. They were also 107th in Exposiveness, 35 spots worse than the 72nd ranking this year. Put simply, this team is much better at throwing the ball than a year ago, with a bigger improvement than the regression in the run game.

If they utilize the pass game the way they’ve shown they can to soften up the box, we saw a week ago this offensive line is capable of opening the types of holes Iowa fans are accustomed to when given a chance. If the run game gets going at all, this offense will be more than good enough to win a bowl game with the defense we’ve seen so far this season.

This week’s bowl projections from SBNation put the Hawkeyes up against Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl (More bowl predictions on the site later this week, by the way!). It isn’t exactly exciting and I get that they knocked off Clemson earlier this year, but does anything about that matchup make you think seriously that Iowa would lay another egg? There are obviously other scenarios and some are worse than others (I like the potential for facing Arizona in the Holiday Bowl much better than one with Washington State in the Foster Farms Bowl), but I am buying in on the theory that Kirk Ferentz has seen the light.

Well, maybe not fully seen the light, but at least considered the possibility that Brian is a nut job and deserves to be listened to on a regular basis. And as I have all season, I still believe Brian has what it takes to make this offense what we all hope it can be. The plays are in the playbook. The athletes are on the field. We’ll know more about how optimistic or pessimistic we should be come Saturday afternoon.

The Pessimist

Facing Washington State would be a defensive matchup NIGHTMARE. But then again, I thought OSU’s offense would be a nightmare for this Iowa squad too, and look what happened.

Nothing makes sense anymore, JP. WE’RE LIVING IN THE UPSIDE DOWN.