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Overreaction Monday: Hawkeyes Look Abysmal in Loss to Michigan

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Saturday was about as sloppy of a game as you’ll see a Kirk Ferentz team play.

Iowa v Iowa State
Saturday’s loss was as frustrating as you’ll see from Iowa.
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Iowa’s 10-3 loss to Michigan on Saturday was a lot of things. Brutal. Frustrating. Defeating. As a fan watching at home, it was hard to take.

Coming into the game, Vegas had Michigan as the favorite, but Iowa was a popular pick for an upset. Michigan has showed little all year outside of a thumping of a bad Rutgers team the week before and Iowa had looked relatively good all year long. The Hawkeyes came into the game ranked five spots higher at 14th in the nation. This was the perfect opportunity to knock off a name brand opponent and earn some national respect. This was the kind of game great Iowa teams have found a way to win.

This Iowa team withered.

With little pressure and a massive opportunity, this group of Hawkeyes didn’t step up to seize the moment.

It’s easy to put the loss squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. The Iowa offense managed only 3 points, the fewest by the Hawkeyes since 2011. Against a team that has been completely destroyed by the run game, Iowa only rushed for only 1 yard on 30 carries. What’s worse, 8 of those carries were by Nate Stanley. And they weren’t carries, they were sacks.

When it was all said and done, Iowa only attempted to actually run the ball at Michigan 22 times while they passed 42. That’s wildly unbalanced for a team that prides itself on establishing the run and utilizing a balanced attack.

In total, Iowa only managed a miserable 261 total yards. The Hawkeyes had six trips make it inside the Michigan 36 yard line and only managed points on one. They went 6/17 on third down, giving up 8 sacks and amassing a season-high 8 penalties. Most importantly, they only managed the 3 miserable points.

The staff surely deserves credit for the loss. Things went very sideways for the Iowa offense, as Fran McCaffery would say, and the adjustments made weren’t enough and weren’t totally correct. But placing blame solely on the coaching staff is misguided and a bit lazy. It’s easy to simply say “call better plays” when the plays called don’t work. I’m sure Michigan fans said something similar about their offense.

But Brian Ferentz and the coaching staff didn’t call the “get a drive-killing penalty” play. They may not have had the perfect play call on, but they also didn’t call the “leave a defender totally unblocked” play or the “hold onto the ball too long and take a sack” play.

Did they seem to abandon the run game? Yes. Should they have tried grinding out more yards between the tackles? Probably. But revisionist history seems to have forgotten the results of running up the middle for much of the first half. They finished the half with 15 carries (actual carries, excluding sacks) for 33 yards. The interior of the offensive line was getting blown up and Mekhi Sargent was having no luck.

We saw an adjustment working to Tyler Goodson. It was likely a mistake not utilizing him even more in the passing game. Iowa had success last time around with Michigan by using Akrum Wadley as a pass-catcher our of the backfield. Goodson isn’t Wadley, but he’s the most dynamic player Iowa has outside of Ihmir Smith-Marsette. And yet, Goodson has more offensive touches than any other Hawkeye. He was utilized a lot.

We also saw a fair amount of quick passing plays on underneath routes and blitz beaters on the outside. The problem? Almost none of them connected to burn the Michigan defense for bringing pressure. And the line did miserably at picking up what should have been routine rushes.

The result was the 2nd most sacks in a game by a Michigan defense ever. Ever.

Those sacks, in combination with as many penalties in one game as Iowa had the entire season coming in (the Hawkeyes were the least penalized team in the nation before Saturday) and baffling decision-making on third down led to five trips to the edge of field goal range without even an attempt at getting points. It’s almost baffling an offense can get so many chances in opposing territory and come away with so few points.

And that’s the real take away from Saturday’s frustrating loss. It was as ugly a game as you could imagine for the Hawkeyes. Seemingly anything that could go wrong, did. A team that had only turned the ball over once in four games this season turned it over four times in one game. A QB that hadn’t thrown an interception all season threw three of them, including back-to-back picks inside the opponent’s 40 yard line. The least penalized team in the nation had as many penalties in one game as they had all season, including three in five plays with the ball at the opposing 25. An offensive line that had given up 8 sacks in four games gave up that many in one game.

It was a nightmare game from top to bottom.

And yet, Iowa lost by a touchdown. To a top-20 team. On the road. Let me say that again. The Hawkeyes lost a one score game on the road to a top-20 team most of us would have picked to win by double digits a few short weeks ago in a game where quite literally anything that could go wrong went WAY wrong for Iowa.

This game was a total aberration. Iowa was not the team we saw on Saturday. If you’ve watched a fraction of the Hawkeyes’ season to-date, that much is obvious. If you’ve watched an Iowa season the last 20 years under Kirk Ferentz, you know we aren’t likely to see Iowa give up 8 sacks in a game again this season. We aren’t likely to see the team commit 8 penalties in a game again this season. We aren’t likely to see this team turn the ball over 4 times in a game again this season. We aren’t likely to see an Iowa team do all those things in a single game again under Kirk Ferentz ever.

This game, in all its frustration and misery, should be a beacon of hope for this team. The dream of a truly special season is now all but dead. But they won’t play that poorly again. The defense looks incredible and if the offense manages to get out of its own way, this is still going to be a very good year. This is still a very good team. And this is still a very good coaching staff.

Have a great week, ya’ll. It can’t get much worse than we saw last week. We’ve got a great one on deck this week with a top-10 Penn State team under the lights on ABC.

Go Hawks