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Overreaction Monday: That Was U-G-L-Y

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The Hawkeyes escaped North Texas with a win, but everything about that game was ugly. How does that translate to Iowa’s future?

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa
Things were ugly at times on Saturday, but TE Noah Fant continues to look excellent for the Hawkeyes.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes have no alibi for Saturday afternoon. It was ugly. You all either saw it live or have no doubt read either the quick recap or the full morning after redux. There’s really no way around it. Things got weird and they didn’t look great for the home team.

There was, of course, some really bad luck out of the gates. The Hawkeyes took the opening kick and proceeded to methodically march 77 yards down the field and cap things off with a Nick Easley TD. But wait, the Easley button was malfunctioning.

After initially ruling it a TD, the finest officiating crew any middle school in Spain has ever seen somehow saw enough on replay (through an opponent’s body, no less) to determine the ball was coming loose prior to Easley crossing the goal line. No dice. Even better? Fumble went out the side of the endzone for a turnover and a touchback. North Texas ball at their own 20.

Six plays and 2:44 of game clock later and RB Jeffrey Wilson sliced through the Iowa defense like a hot knife through butter to put the Mean Green up 7-0. What. The. Hell. This isn’t how these things are supposed to go. But the craziness and the ugliness was just getting started.

On the ensuing Iowa possession, Nate Stanley hit Akrum Wadley on a wheel route on 3rd and 9 from their own 26 and Wadley did what he does best. 74 yards to the house with an exclamation point!

Ugh. “Excessive Celebration” = 15 yards from the spot = 1st and 10 from the 21. 7 points off the board, Iowa not even in the redzone and I am heated.

*We need to just take a moment here and talk about how insane this is. You can sit here and talk to me about the rule book and how stupid it was of Wadley to showboat like that on the way into the endzone. Fine. Do you have a TV? Do you ever watch games other than Iowa? Have you ever watched Wadley score a TD before? Have you ever watched any player in the history of football get a sack, create a turnover or find his way to pay dirt (who didn’t happen to be an Iowa FB, OL or LB)? THEY. ALL. DO. IT. Every time! Ever damn time. Where is the line? Nobody knows. It’s like holding. It can be called every time but you only should throw the flag when it’s egregious or the reason a play is able to move forward. This was a ludicrous call, on par with the roughing the long snapper penalty in the Michigan game last year. End rant. For now.*

The football gods smiled upon the Hawkeyes and made sure the ridiculous penalty didn’t prevent them from scoring, though Nate Stanley tried his hardest to not let it happen.

Seriously, things were ugly.

After forcing a punt on North Texas’s next possession, Iowa fans everywhere assumed things were getting back on track. Iowa started with great field position and got themselves into a 3rd and 4 from the UNT 34. Two straight incompletions later and we have a turnover on downs. Kirk actually forgot that punting was winning.

Fast forward two and a half minutes of game time and the Mean Green are looking to take the lead again. Things continued to be weird.

I mean, it’s not whiffing on a punt a la Wyoming weird and in the context of the rest of this game it was a perfectly normal football play, but it isn’t something we see every Saturday. I digress.

Iowa went on to get a FG, taking a 10-7 lead, and after forcing a 3-and-out, things looked set to be right back on track. Until they weren’t. Everything then went so far off track I don’t even know how to explain.

Bruh. That may be the ugliest play that didn’t actually result in a turnover I have ever seen. The end result was a fresh set of downs, but a loss of 34 yards and a punt. Of course, North Texas was then able to move the ball 66 yards in 32 seconds and take a halftime lead of 14-10.

The proverbial shit had hit the fan. That was perhaps one of the ugliest halves of football I’ve ever witnessed at any level. It was one thing after another. If it wasn’t the weird plays or the incessant whistles for penalties, it was injuries. And boy were there plenty of them.

Many of us assumed Akrum Wadley’s absence from the game was due to his 1st quarter penalty. That may have had something to do with it, but he also sustained an ankle injury and left the sideline at one point to have it taped up in the locker room. He never returned.

Next man in seemed like a fine motto given the opponent. Then James Butler went and turned everyone’s stomachs upside down when he turned his elbow inside out. It had been so long since we had spoken to that great football deity who shall remain unnamed.

We even had Stanley trying to take a snap from the wrong lineman.

Just weirdness all over the place. I mean seriously, that thing was not pretty. But you know what it was? A win. In spite of all the weirdness and ugliness, Iowa rattled off 21 unanswered to walk away 3-0. And that’s my biggest takeaway. This team knows how to win, no matter what that might require of them.

If we are thinking about the season-long success or failure of this team, I think that bodes well. It’s been a hallmark of successfull teams under Kirk Ferentz, typically showing up in the form of winning close games.

This year’s team has already done that with the win last week at Iowa State. They’ve also shown an ability to adjust their gameplan to fit the game being played rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole. That’s not something we’ve historically seen a lot of.

And this year’s group has already shown an ability to fight through some adversity. We saw a lot of that this weekend. Things were not looking great half way through the 3rd quarter, still trailing 14-10. But they fought through it. The Iowa defense bowed their collective backs and held the Mean Green scoreless in the second half. After scoring three touchdowns in the first half, only to have 2 taken away due to the Wadley high step and the I-don’t-know-how-you-possibly-overturn-that Easley goal line fumble, the Iowa offense asserted their will upon North Texas and scored 21 unanswered on drives of 14, 16 and 10 plays.

Had Bill Belichik had any more influence on Kirk Ferentz it would have been 28 unanswered. Instead, the Hawkeyes opted to show mercy and take a knee to close out the game rather than giving RS Freshman Toren Young an opportunity at his first career TD.

So where does that leave things heading into a matchup in primetime in front of a national audience this weekend, hosting the #4 Penn State Nittany Lions? Honestly I don’t know. Despite the grittiness we saw from this team fighting through adversity last weekend and the versatility they showed beating Iowa State in Ames at a good old fashioned game of Big 12 basketball on grass, there are major question marks.

I don’t know about you, but I still don’t feel as good as I thought I would in week 4 about this offensive line. There have been so many moving parts that there just doesn’t seem to be a ton of cohesion yet. They looked great for a few drives in each of the last two week. They’ve held up quite well in pass protection, a major issue last season. But they haven’t been able to create some of the gaping holes and cutback lanes we saw a year ago, and that’s something I had honestly taken for granted.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa
Stanley has been the surprise of the season at this point. 10 TDs with only 1 INT is incredible. Can he keep up that pace?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Stanley has looked terrific. I was nervous about his ability to to make the reads at the line and post-snap after the Wyoming game. He’s shown a lot the last two weeks. But does anyone here think either of those defenses would be higher than maybe 13th in the Big Ten this year? I have concerns about that holding up against a behemoth like PSU if the offensive line isn’t going to be opening wide running lanes.

Akrum Wadley is averaging 4.3 YPC this year, the lowest of his career (6.4 last year, 6.0 in 2015 and 5.6 on only 33 carries as a freshman in 2014). If you’ve watched the games you know that isn’t because he is any less explosive. You can say teams are loading the box. You’re right. And they’re going to keep doing that. But they did it last year as well and Iowa was able to bust off a number of long TD runs with both Wadley and Leshun Daniels. We haven’t seen that this year. The difference is the running lanes being opened, or not, at the point of attack.

If they can get that straightened out, I really liked what I saw out of RS Freshman Toren Young and true freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin. Young was the bruiser we’ve seen advertised. He doesn’t have quite the burst of IKM, but he looks a lot like Daniels of last season to me. And Kelly-Martin looks like he could be the real deal. Great combination of power and speed. I don’t know that we’ll ever see another back with the wiggle of Wadley, but IKM has enough of it to make me think the season wouldn’t be totally lost if that unnamed deity reared its ugly head again.

On the other side of the ball, I thought the defense did a great job of stiffening that upper lip when they needed to this week. They sure didn’t do that in Ames. And the ability of other running backs to just run free on this team is really concerning. The tackling has been brutal outside of week 1. That won’t cut it against Saquon Barkley this week or just about anybody else the rest of the way.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa
Ivory Kelly-Martin looks like he could be the next great Iowa RB waiting in the wings.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary has had its moments. They got toasted a few times at Iowa State, but overall I thought they looked pretty good the other two games. I like seeing Amani Hooker on the back and and will be anxious to see this week’s depth chart. Josh Jackson has proven himself a hell of a corner and Rugamba and Ojemudia seem like they will be next in that long line when they gain the requisite experience. Do they hold up against Trace McSorley this weekend?

Can this team limit mistakes? Through three games, the Hawkeyes have committed 19 penalties (16 the last two weeks) and turned the ball over 6 times, 5 of those being fumbles. Those mistakes can’t happen if this team wants to win in the Big Ten.

I have so many questions and concerns. But I don’t question their heart, their grittiness or their willingness to adapt to whatever the game is giving them. If they can do that, they have a fighting chance to do what the great teams of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure have done: play up to the level of the competition, ugly things up, limit mistakes and win close games.

That has been a recipe for special things in 2002, 2009 and 2015. Can this team put it all together and have one of those years? Or are they a team that gets bitten by the injury bug, has too many costly turnovers, penalties, missed tackles and missed opportunities like 2010?

We’ll know a lot more after Saturday night. I sure hope the next ugly game we see is because the Hawkeyes have chosen to make it a close, ugly game - that they win.