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MARYLAND 38, IOWA 31: NEW ADVENTURES IN TURTLING

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Iowa was supposed to out-physical Maryland Saturday. And then the opposite happened.

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OLEEEEEEE OLE OLE OLEEEEEEEE oleeeeeeeee oleeeeeeeeee
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa defensive end Drew Ott picked off Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown on the first play of Saturday's game between the Hawkeyes and Terrapins, leading to a Mark Weisman touchdown after a five-play, 32-yard drive.  After a defensive stop, Iowa's offense again sliced through Maryland, needing just seven plays to cover 80 yards and give the Hawkeyes a 14-0 lead.  We didn't know what to do.  We were having bad thoughts.

And then Iowa ran out of offensive plays.  It was the first quarter.

Over 13 offensive series in the following 44 minutes, Iowa's offense managed just 148 yards and seven points, punting the ball nine times and turning it over twice.

Maryland series

Over that same period, Maryland scored 38 points, racked up 397 yards of offense, intercepted one of the stupidest passes in the history of the game and returned it for a touchdown, and did it all despite having horrible field position throughout.  Maryland was markedly better than Iowa on offense, on defense, and on special teams.  It dominated both Iowa's offensive and defensive lines.  It wholly and completely controlled the game.  The superiority was total, and it was obvious.

After completing his first seven pass attempts, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock found receivers on just three of his next twelve pass attempts.  The use of 'receivers' is extremely liberal: Rudock did not target a wide receiver until the second half, and did not complete a pass to a wideout until eight minutes into the third quarter.  Early in the fourth quarter, with Iowa facing a 3rd and 6 but down by just three points and holding a thread of momentum, Rudock attempted a three-yard out route to the outside receiver on the opposite sideline.  It was a 30-yard throw into a 20 mph wind designed to gain three yards.  It was, in short, the dumbest pass pattern in the history of pass patterns.  It was intercepted by Maryland defensive back Will Likely and returned for a touchdown, precisely the result it deserved.

By the time the next two series -- two of the eight three-and-out punts that Iowa's offense managed during the creamy center of this game -- were over, Rudock was 18/33 for 173 yards (a ghastly 5.2 yards per attempt), a touchdown and a pick six, and Iowa was down by 17 points.  In related news, C.J. Beathard did not play.  Rudock padded his stats with a futile fourth-quarter comeback, eventually running up 144 passing yards in Iowa's final three series against a soft Maryland zone and ensuring that Kirk Ferentz will tell us how good he was on Tuesday.

Iowa's running game was effective at times -- Mark Weisman ran for 78 yards on just ten carries -- but was ironically abandoned once the passing game had killed all semblance of offense and put Iowa in a hole.  The offensive line blocked well for the backs, but the pass blocking left much to be desired.  Even Brandon Scherff was victimized by a Maryland defensive front that frequently beat him with a simple bull rush or a speed rush and a rip move.

Iowa's defensive line could not contain Terps quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for 99 of Maryland's 212 rushing yards on 46 carries.  Four different Maryland rushers managed runs of more than 12 yards (definied as an "explosive play" by Greg Davis, as we have frequently heard).  While Iowa shut down Deon Long, fellow receiver Stefon Diggs found open space in the Iowa secondary and carved the Hawkeyes up.  Iowa's tackling, against both the run and pass, was sloppy throughout, and the linebackers' play recognition on Maryland's base zone read play was lacking.  While penalties weren't a huge factor -- Iowa drew seven flags for 65 yards -- they were almost all at the worst possible moments.  Iowa's three turnovers were all committed by experienced players making stupid mistakes.

Perhaps that is the most disappointing aspect of Saturday's loss: Iowa was not beaten by finesse and speed as we had feared, but by brute force in the trenches. An offensive line that prides itself on being the "Bullies of the Big Ten" got shut down by a three-man front and a stiff breeze.  The hard-hitting Iowa defense took more hits than it gave.  There is no room for grandstanding or hyperbole after a loss that comprehensive.  There is only acceptance of where we are: The middle of a poor conference, at best, and sliding.