IOWA CITY – They might have well played Central Michigan twice – the game on the field and then the countless games run within the Iowa players’ heads.
“You replay all 57 offensive snaps and think how could we have scored here? How could we have converted this and converted that,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “When it’s that close you look at every detail and it comes down to just a couple of those plays can change the game.”
The replays in their minds couldn’t change reality on the field. Central Michigan still recovered the onside kick. David Harman’s game-winning kick still split the uprights and Iowa is still 2-2.
The final three notes probably played on repeat throughout weekend for some players. Even the exhaustion of recreating the onside kick, a dropped pass, or a missed tackle, still wasn’t enough to force a good night’s sleep.
“It was tough, it definitely is tough,” wide receiver Keenan Davis said. “During that night, it’s hard. I live with teammates so it’s we kind of just hung out there. It sucks but you have to flush it out.”
Less than 24 hours later, if they were able to extinguish the painful loss, Sunday reignites those images. The day after a game is a film day to see what when right or wrong. After the Chippewas, it was more the later.
It’s a painful sometimes embarrassing part of the football season, but it’s a necessary one.
“Yeah it hurts. But it’s that old saying, if losing doesn’t hurt, it’s probably time to move on, right,” center James Ferentz said. “It always hurts to go look back at the tape, but it’s important that we do. When we look at what we did well, focus on those things because it’s important.”
A full 60 minutes
The Hawkeyes offense has scored on its opening possession in each of the four games this season. In the first two games, Iowa posted field goals. In the two most recent games, they’ve been touchdowns.
Other than that, the Iowa offense hasn’t seen much consistency.
“I think we took another step in the right direction,” Vandenberg said. “But the bottom line is we scored 31 points and we probably needed to score 33.We’re looking forward to taking another step this week against a tough defense.”
The steps forward: Along with those four opening drive scores, the Hawkeyes scored a season high in points with 31. The offense also scored its first passing touchdown on the year.
“That’s what coach (Greg) Davis, he’s been preaching that,” wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “He’s been telling us, feel good about your improvement, but don’t feel good about the loss. That’s one thing we saw on the film. We did a lot of things very well.”
The steps back: Iowa had almost no production in the second and third quarters.
“Saturday I think we did take some steps forward as an offensive unit,” James Ferentz said. “Obviously we had a much better performance in the red zone, which is encouraging. But again you look at the second and third quarter, we just didn’t execute at some critical moments that could have affected the outcome of the game.”
The Iowa defense has been dealing with a similar problem. The Hawkeyes haven’t had trouble closing. They hadn’t allowed a fourth quarter point all season. Against the Chippewas, Iowa allowed nine in the final 2:18. It has also surrendered 54 points in the first half.
‘A terrible rule’
Lost in the low of an botched onside kick recovery and the high of Mike Meyer eclipsing Nate Kaeding for consecutive extra points made is the mediocrity of the Iowa punt returning.
Micah Hyde has returned six punts for 33 yards, an average of 5.5 yards a return and a long of 11. It’s pretty pedestrian, but Iowa’s opponents haven’t been super human either. They have returned four punts for 28 yards.
When looked at nationally at more than 125 teams, there are just 41 players who average double-digit yards on punt returns. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has an explanation.
“I think college has a bad rule in punting, the fact that everybody is allowed downfield when the ball is snapped, I think that’s a terrible rule for college football, but that’s the rule,” Ferentz said. “I think with that rule being in place, I don’t know how many great returns you’ll see.”
Yards aren’t the premium of any good punt return, but it’s possession of the ball.
“Like coach always says, ‘Just have the ball in your hands at the end of it,’” Hyde said. “That’s all that matters. If you can get the ball to our offense, that’s the number one thing. If you pop a good return that’s another.”
Saturday’s game against Minnesota will mark the 200th of Kirk Ferentz’s career as Iowa head coach. He is 110-89… Three of Iowa’s four games this season have been decided by three points or less. Iowa’s last six trophy games have been decided by an average of four points… Saturday will mark Iowa’s second earliest homecoming game ever. The Hawkeyes have won three straight on homecoming.