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Overreaction Monday: Being a Hawkeye Fan is Maddening

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When the Hawkeyes start finding new ways to lose games, it becomes very frustrating to be an Iowa fan. Such is life right now.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota
Kirk Ferentz opted to go for two earlier than most on Saturday. Did that cost Iowa the game?
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Being a Hawkeye fan is maddening. It’s something we all know. We’ve known it as long as we’ve been fans. Through the ups and the downs, Iowa fans are passionate enough to let their Hawkeyes get the best of their emotions from time to time.

When things are going well, it can be a wonderful experience. But as we discussed just a week ago, we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. We know we can’t have nice things and we’re perpetually waiting for the nice thing we see within our grasp to be taken from us by the playground bully.

What’s more disheartening than having your lunch money taken from you by a bully? Having it taken by the other, slightly flashier yet much punier geek from the other side of town.

That’s essentially what happened on Saturday. With everything on the line - a chance to salvage a season by keeping the dream of 10 wins and a Big Ten West title alive - Iowa got their lunch money taken by a team that lost at home to Eastern Michigan.

The maddening part, to me, is not that Iowa lost to Purdue. That was something we thought could happen and with the way the offense looked against Penn State, we knew it was a possibility. No, no, it’s how Iowa managed to lose to Purdue.

Because for once, nobody in their right mind can make an attempt at blaming Brian Ferentz or the offense for this one. Not in a game where they managed nearly 400 yards of total offense and 36 points.

Thirty. Six. Points.

Thirty-six points is the most Iowa has ever scored in regulation and lost a football game. Ever.

EVER.

Thirty-six points should be enough to win a football game. At Iowa, it has been enough quite literally every game in the history of the program, provided that game didn’t go to OT (the Hawkeyes did lose 44-41 to Iowa State in 2011, but only scored 24 in regulation).

And that’s where this gets maddening.

We’ve grown accustomed to blaming the offense. We know the Ferentz way of turtling up, getting conservative and coming up on the short end of the stick. We’re a ground and pound program and we hate it, but the defense has been there to save us almost every time they’ve needed to the last 20 seasons.

Saturday, that wasn’t the case.

Quite the contrary, this loss was on the defense. It was all on the defense. They gave up 434 yards of offense, 21 first downs and 38 points. And frankly, they were spared by the Boilermakers in the points department.

We’ve grown to know and love the bend, but don’t break philosophy brought by Norm Parker and leveraged by Phil Parker. It’s won Iowa a LOT of games over the years.

Saturday, the Hawkeyes did a whole lot of bending, but they never bowed their backs. They broke easier than your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2. Worse yet, all too often they didn’t even bother bending, they just broke right off the bat.

The Iowa defense gave up points on more than half of Purdue’s possessions, with five of those six possessions ending in touchdowns. They forced only three punts all day, though they did haul in a pair of interceptions.

Those scoring drives were for 74, 75, 89, 82, and 18 yards. They took only 3:04, 2:35, 4:20, 0:10 and 2:46 of game clock. Simply put, Purdue scored often and they scored quickly.

That’s important to consider as we lean into our natural tendency to blame losses on the poor offense or stupid mistakes from the Captain. It’s what we’re accustomed to do. And it’s easy to fall back on habit, especially when there are small blips we could latch onto.

For example, we could belabor the fact that tight ends Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson only had 7 catches on 10 targets on a day where Nate Stanley threw the ball 32 times. It’s a legitimate question to ask, but not even close to the reason why Iowa lost. They still scored 36 points despite the tight end target share.

It would also be easy to blame Kirk Ferentz for chasing points in the third quarter. I mean, he did do it. Down 28-23, Kirk cut against the grain and opted to go for two long before conventional wisdom says you start considering that option.

After the game, he explained his reasoning, saying he thought the game would be in the 40s and Iowa was going to need every point they could get. He wasn’t wrong. The game almost certainly would have ended in the 40s had they elected to take the extra point there. And in a game where Iowa lost by 2, they definitely needed every point they could get.

But saying Iowa lost because they opted to go for 2 in the third quarter shows two things:

  1. Just how much Iowa fans really have become trained to believe the defense is always going to be good and losses are the fault of one of the offense or Kirk.
  2. Most football fans have never done anything more than casually watch it from the stands or their own home.

If they kick the extra points instead of chasing, sure, they possibly wind up with 38 points at the end of regulation (I’ll lay aside any minute possibility of Recinos missing his first extra point ever). And sure, maybe they even win in overtime. But there is a VERY large likelihood Purdue ends the game with more than 38 points.

They took over possession for their final drive with 4:30 on the clock and the ball at midfield. As I said earlier, their longest drive of the game ate up 4:20 of game clock. They also had all three timeouts remaining.

It’s possible the Iowa defense would have come up with a huge stop in clutch time if they had needed to prevent Purdue from scoring a touchdown. They did nearly stop them from getting a field goal. It took the Boilermakers a 4th down conversion to even get into range, after all.

But Purdue didn’t even seem interested in trying to score a touchdown and they still nearly got in. In fact, a third of the Boilermakers’ total running plays for the entire game came on the final drive (10 of 31).

Purdue was trying to do little more than milk the clock on their final drive. If they needed points, there’s little doubt they could have gotten them.
Screen grab via espn.com

Iowa allowed Purdue to the fringe of field goal range on the very first play of the drive and ultimately had them well within range with close to two minutes remaining. But our most hated rival opted to milk the clock rather than attempt to score and give Nate Stanley a chance at a comeback.

Despite little effort, Purdue still got the ball inside the Iowa 5 yard line and ran 4 plays inside the Iowa 10 in the final minute. If Kirk had opted to kick and Iowa was sitting at 38 points, does anyone here think the Boilermakers only throw one play to the endzone on that final drive? Does anyone honestly believe they run it 10 of the final 12 plays?

Going for two didn’t cost Iowa the game, it simply changed Jeff Brohm’s strategy for winning it.

I think that’s what makes this loss in particular so frustrating. This was a new way for the Hawkeyes to lose. It wasn’t something we were used to. The offense showed up, but the defense did not. That’s not the Iowa way.

As fans, we’re left grasping as it’s hard to believe Iowa lost a game where they scored 36 points. It’s hard to believe a Phil Parker defense would give up 38.

And yet here we are. And it came in a must win game. And now all hope for a better than good season is gone.

This Iowa team is finding new ways to lose games, new ways to ensure fans cannot have nice things. We’re no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop, that’s already happened. But now it seems as if we’re waiting for the bottom to fall out.

And that’s maddening.

Try to keep your sanity this week, Hawk fans. It could always be worse. We could be Husker fans.

Happy Monday. Go Hawks. Basketball season is near.