IOWA CITY — You don’t need permission to boo, but they went ahead and gave it to you anyway in the postgame.
“They’re well deserved,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We scored seven offensive points. We’ve got to do a lot better than that.”
So, boo. If the Hawkeyes (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) thud like they did in Saturday night’s 38-14 blowout loss to Penn State at Kinnick Stadium, you’re going to need the practice. This was Iowa’s worst loss at Kinnick since a 31-7 defeat to Penn State in 1999, Kirk Ferentz’s first season, and its third loss at home this season, the first time that’s happened since 2006 (Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin).
This game set up for the quarterback to carry it. The Hawkeyes went in with running back Mark Weisman, the walk-on and the most consistent performer on offense through the first half of the season, on a sprained ankle. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Iowa would need to make some plays in the passing game to make the offense a go against the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0), who sport a ferocious defensive front.
Iowa needed Vandenberg and the passing game to carry it. The Hawkeyes got a TD pass, but it came with 4:11 left and only softened the final scored. It was wide receiver Keenan Davis’ first TD reception in 13 games.
It was too little and it was too little. Forget about it being too late.
Ferentz was asked if he thought about putting backup Jake Rudock into the game, even late when it was all but over. That wasn’t happening, and it’s not happening.
“I thought about it, but there’s really . . .” Ferentz said, shifting in his chair before moving the postgame to the next question. “Probably wasn’t one of the biggest decisions I had tonight, that’s for sure.”
Vandenberg was ineffective, hitting 17 of 36 for 189 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also had a fumble that set up a PSU scoring drive.
“I don’t know if I could put my finger on one thing,” Vandenberg said. “We didn’t run the ball well, we didn’t throw the ball well. We didn’t protect it. That’s a recipe for getting whupped.”
When he’s right, he’s right.
Weisman was able to play, but he clearly wasn’t the back who rushed for 100 yards in each of the last four games. He rushed five times for 9 yards. True freshman Greg Garmon started but never gained traction with eight rushes for 27 yards.
“That falls on us as offensive linemen,” center James Ferentz said. “We did a poor job blocking all night. We weren’t able to get up to the second level. Their front four did a phenomenal job. Their linebacker cleaned up as well. It was a rough night for us.”
Compounding the struggles were the losses of offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal in the first quarter. They were injured on the first and third downs of a three-and-out. Ferentz said Scherff, who’s emerged as a force on the left side of Iowa’s O-line, will miss the rest of the season. Donnal will be examined further tomorrow.
With those two out, the Hawkeyes finished with 20 rushing yards (0.9 yards a carry on 23 attempts), their worst performance since minus-9 in a 31-6 loss at Ohio State in 2005.
“We didn’t block them well, we didn’t execute well, run or pass,” Ferentz said. “We couldn’t get anything going tonight, at all, period.”
Ferentz was asked three different times about replacing Vandenberg, who finished with a pass efficiency of 89.37 percent and 5.25 yards per pass attempt, with Rudock late in the fourth quarter. You already have the first response. Let’s run the other two.
“That’s already been asked,” Ferentz said. “I thought about it, but at that point we just felt like, let the starters finish the game.”
The last time it came up, the question was asked a little differently with a reference to the 2008 QB race between Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi. Christensen began the season as the starter, but Stanzi unseated him and the Hawkeyes ended up winning their final four games, including the Outback Bowl.
“The 2008 was kind of a back and forth. We thought the competition was really close,” Ferentz said. “James is our quarterback.”
While Iowa’s offense went nowhere slowly — seven of Iowa’s first nine drives went three-and-out or ended in a turnover or missed field goal — the defense broke. Penn State’s O-line handled Iowa’s front seven, clearing the way for 215 yards (most against Iowa in eight games) on 52 carries.
Penn State rushed 52 times and averaged 4.1 yards a rush, most against Iowa in 11 games. That says dominance more than anything else. Penn State’s tempo — the “NASCAR” hurry-up offense first-year head coach Bill O’Brien installed — never let the Hawkeyes catch their breath.
“It was a factor,” linebacker James Morris said. “It was something that caught us off guard from maybe a playcalling standpoint. We’re going to need to work on that, because next week we play another team that’s going to try to do some similar things.”
Next week Iowa goes to Northwestern (6-2, 2-2), which fell at home Saturday, 29-28, to Nebraska. Yes, the Wildcats run a fast-paced offense.
And, yes, Vandenberg still will be Iowa’s quarterback.
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