MINNEAPOLIS – It was inspiring, really.
A team finishing a rotten football season in which its head coach got fired was full of fire in its season-finale. The Minnesota Gophers either didn’t know or care that they were 15-point underdogs against Iowa here Saturday. Good for them.
The Gophers played with enthusiasm and energy. They gave it that old college try. They had nothing but pride on the line, but played as if pride mattered more than anything else in the world. Sometimes it does.
Minnesota earned its 27-24 win over Iowa in TCF Bank Stadium. The way it won, overcoming a deficit in the fourth-quarter with a sterling touchdown drive of 77 yards, added to the happiness its players can forever own from this day.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile … not so inspiring.
The team with all the preseason hype, all the preseason All-Big Ten and even All-America guys, turned out to be all hat and no cattle. Not being able to close out games time after time says you lack more than healthy linebackers or optimal special teams.
After the game, Hawkeye player after Hawkeye player said their team just didn’t execute as well as the opposition. That didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. So why didn’t they execute as well, being a veteran squad and all?
“I wish I had the answers,” said defensive tackle Karl Klug.
“The offense is not closing out games,” said tight end Allen Reisner, “kind of like pitchers blowing saves. … I can’t explain what it is.”
“I have no idea,” said defensive end Adrian Clayborn. “If you can watch the film and tell me, then I’ll be pretty happy.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to say that right now,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Today was disappointing, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
Going a dozen games without ever losing by more than one score says you have a capable football team. Especially when you lost by razor-thin margins to the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State.
But losing five times when you were ahead or tied in the fourth quarter says you are in need of a team psychologist. Somewhere, somehow, this team mentally tapped out. Maybe it realized it, maybe it didn’t. The evidence it happened, however, was littered across November.
It wasn’t just the outside world that pinned those great expectations on the 2010 Hawkeyes.
“We’re a great team,” said Iowa senior linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. “We have the makings – we could have played in the national-championship game this year, by far. We have a great team. It was just a matter of getting things done.”
There is that rather large detail. Getting things done is what Iowa did last year. Not getting them done is the tale of ’10.
“We had everything a team could want,” Hunter said. “It was a matter of getting the job done. If not national, then definitely the Big Ten. But every game we lost, we lost in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.”
In other words, when the pressure to succeed is highest.
Of course, Big Ten tri-champs Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin took a different path and beat the daylights out of many of their league foes. They, much more than Iowa, have everything a team could want.
Those teams haven’t saved their ‘A’ efforts only for marquee matchups. OSU and Wisconsin in particular have brought the thunder against lesser conference teams. Like, you know, Minnesota.
“We just rolled out like we were supposed to win,” Clayborn said about Saturday’s game.
Iowa rushed for 91 yards against a team that had allowed 200 per game. Minnesota had averaged 128 rushing yards before Saturday and got 216 against Iowa. Why?
“Our defense is pretty damn good — pardon my language – when we execute it. We weren’t doing it.”
Why? They all were asked why. No one had an answer. Strange season, wouldn’t you say?