Rarely does anyone have a good first day back at work after being sick. Bryan Bulaga is no exception.
The 6-6, 312-pound junior offensive tackle returned to the lineup for the No. 12 Hawkeyes after missing three games with a thyroid illness. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Bulaga was a little rusty but was OK overall.
“He has things to work on,” Ferentz said.
Hang onto the “overall” portion of the discussion. Bulaga might have been fine, but the overall performance of the Iowa (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) offensive line was a loss. A scrappy, under-the-radar group from Arkansas State pretty much stuffed an O-line that only a week earlier jammed up Penn State and its front seven.
Bulaga didn’t cushion the blow.
“It was ugly for the most part,” he said. “We didn’t do many things right the entire time.”
Arkansas State held Iowa to 124 yards on 33 carries, a 3.8-yard average. It was Iowa’s second-lowest output this season, with the lowly 87 against Northern Iowa still holding. They know it has to be better this Saturday. If Arkansas State’s front four was unforgiving, Michigan (4-1, 1-1) certainly won’t offer a vacation day.
“We were not very happy with our performance as an offensive line,” guard Julian Vandervelde said. “I suppose it’s good to have that sort of performance and still come out with a win. That’ll motivate us this week to work a lot harder at the things we need to improve on. We’ll spend a lot more time in the film room and on the practice field focusing on the details this week.”
Leading 24-21 and with the ball at ASU’s 47, Iowa needed one first down to drain the final 2:01 off the clock. Running back Adam Robinson gained 3 yards on first down. Good start. Second down, he gained 3 more. On third-and-4, Robinson ran to the left for zero yards.
Iowa punted. Arkansas State had a shot, albeit a long and miraculous shot, but a shot.
“That was very frustrating,” Bulaga said. “Gosh, you want to be able to close out a game like that and get 10 yards. That was frustrating. You’ve got to learn from it and move on to next week.”
Ferentz said the offense “regressed.” He wasn’t talking about the O-line specifically, but the question was about the offensive line. Either way, “regressed” isn’t what you’re shooting for in week 5.
“I thought we regressed, quite honestly, not so much an effort thing but we had a lot of loose ends and it probably showed up on the scoreboard,” Ferentz said. “We just didn’t execute fundamentally the way that you would hope after four games. This was our fifth game. I’d like to see us a little further along at that point.”
To a man, the O-line didn’t buy the “continuity” issue that would be the easy out. It was Bulaga’s first game in the lineup since Sept. 5. It was third different O-line this season. But that wasn’t it, they said.
“It’s just guys making mental mistakes, mental errors,” Bulaga said. “These easily can be cleaned up. It’s just getting it right and going out there and doing it.”
The technical and mental sharpness that helped Iowa rush for 163 yards at Penn State wasn’t there against Arkansas State.
They knew Sunday’s video session was going to be brutal. It went a little like this:
“There’s a laser pointer. There’s a lot of pointing,” Vandervelde said. “There’s not as much yelling as you might think.
“… They always say the film is never as good or bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes, that’s just not true. It’s every bit as bad as you thought it was going to be. This was probably one of those weekends.”