BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In the end, the place just oozed with imagery that not only told the story but screamed it.
The first down that Indiana notched to drain the clock down to prayers for the Hawkeyes did everything it could to stir the Memorial Stadium crowd of 40,646, a generous count in a mostly gray aluminum bleacher mass for a game that was delayed an hour because of severe weather.
More telling. The stairway from the elevator that the assistant coaches take from the press box to the lockerrooms had Indiana coaches on the left and Iowa coaches on the right. Once they hit the last stair, Hoosiers coaches took off on a dead sprint to the left, while Iowa coaches shuffled to the right, hands in pockets and blank looks on their faces.
Most telling. Before Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz took to the table to answer questions about not going for it on a fourth-and-1, a killing interception, a killing long play in a tight game, a member of the Memorial Stadium services quietly vacuumed the red carpet.
Iowa (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) is in clean-up mode.
Saturday’s 24-21 loss at Indiana (4-5, 2-3) dropped the Hawkeyes below .500 for the first time since October 2007. They lost their third straight game for the first time since 2008 and their third straight Big Ten game for the first time since finishing the ’10 season with losses to Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota.
The kicker for the here and the now is if the Hawkeyes want to go to a bowl game, they will have to beat one of college football’s blue bloods.
Iowa sits 4-5 with Purdue next week at Kinnick Stadium, at Michigan and the Black Friday finale at home against Nebraska.
Call the guy with the vacuum, clean up in aisle Hawkeye.
“We’re not putting the flag up,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ve got three games scheduled. We have every intention of . . .”
The thought drifted away.
The first gory detail is the fourth-and-1 at Iowa’s 28 with about five minutes left and the Hawkeyes trailing 24-21.
On third-and-7, quarterback James Vandenberg completed a 6-yard pass to Keenan Davis. The Hawkeyes lined up to go for it with less than a yard to go, but the play was then reviewed. After the call on the field was upheld, Ferentz sent out punter Connor Kornbrath.
Here’s what he said, “We felt like if we had tempo, we could take a shot at it right there and try to catch them back on their heels,” Ferentz said. “The play got stopped to review the spot. That kind of changed the complexion.
“We’ve got 4:43, so as you might imagine we were hoping to get a good punt . . . and we’re playing for a stop at that point.”
The Hawkeyes got that stop . . . 4:25 later. They got the ball back with 18 seconds left. For the second time this season, Iowa ended a game doing the desperate and fruitless lateral thing.
“The way we see it, we’ve got three and possibly four chances to play in the black and gold ever,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time and throw as many punches as we can.”
Vandenberg offered this after a thorough breakdown of the interception he threw on Iowa’s first drive of the second half. The Hawkeyes drove to Indiana’s 12. On third-and-goal, Vandenberg tried to put the ball on wide receiver Jordan Cotton’s back shoulder. Why not? IU cornerback Antonio Marshall wasn’t looking, Vandenberg said.
Vandenberg caught IU in a safety blitz. The Hoosiers secondary recovered. He made a throw that he wanted back.
“I didn’t think he was looking, I thought we could stick one on Jordan’s back shoulder,” said Vandenberg, who completed 21 of 34 for 249 yards, an interception and TD. “The ball should never have been thrown. That was me.”
On third-and-8 on the Hoosiers’ answer, quarterback Cam Coffman hit wide receiver Kofi Hughes for a 77-yard gain to Iowa’s 1. Coffman, who spun Iowa for three TD passes — all to wide receiver Cody Latimer — scrambled toward the line of scrimmage. Iowa was in nickel and cornerback Greg Castillo left Hughes and went toward the line of scrimmage.
“It’s an age-old issue in football,” Ferentz said, “when quarterbacks start running around, rule No. 1 is DBs have to stay in coverage and the guys up front have to handle it. . . . We violated a defensive principle there.”
Coffman, who was pulled early by coach Kevin Wilson, hit Latimer for a 17-14 lead with 7:28 left in the third. Iowa surged ahead on running back Damon Bullock’s 4-yard TD run with 12:17 left, but the Hoosiers made it look easy on a four-play, 61-yard drive capped by Coffman to Latimer for a 30-yard score and a 24-21 lead with 10:58 left.
That drive was launched by a 39-yard kick return by Isiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers racked up 473 yards total offense, the third straight week Iowa has allowed 400-plus, its worst stretch of defense since ’07.
Iowa had Indiana on the ropes early in this one. Vandenberg led Iowa on a first-quarter scoring drive and linebacker Christian Kirksey followed it up with an 18-yard interception return for a TD, his second of the season.
But there’s no finish in this team. And now, there’s no margin of error if it wants to bowl.
That sound you hear is a vacuum.