IOWA CITY — Give it up for Coe College’s football team, which beat Central 34-13 Saturday to finish its regular-season at 10-0 and …
What? I have to write about Iowa’s 27-24 loss to Purdue Saturday at Kinnick Stadium? That doesn’t seem fair, to you or me. This isn’t television. We’re not supposed to air reruns, and this Hawkeyes season has had the same basic plot line from week to week.
Nothing could capsulize this season as well as the last 21 seconds of Saturday’s game. With the game tied at 24, Iowa had a 4th-and-3 at the Purdue 35 with: 21 left. James Vandenberg threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Zach Derby. Who, outside of Purdue’s small band of fans here, was surprised by that?
So Purdue got the ball at its 34 with: 16 left. A 17-yard quarterback keeper and a timeout. A 20-yard pass play and a timeout. A 46-yard field goal and a victory.
This was a team that had been 0-5 in the Big Ten doing what it wanted to do on offense, like it did all day. This was a team that had been 0-5 in the Big Ten knowing what Iowa was going to do on offense, all day. Like all Hawkeye opponents.
This was a team that had been 0-5 in the Big Ten that seemed to subconsciously be trying to torpedo itself because the Hawkeyes couldn’t do it for them. The Boilermakers fumbled and penalized their way into a close game when they should have won in a landslide.
It was as if Purdue’s players said to themselves, “Wait a minute. If we win this, that won’t help the case to fire our coach (Danny Hope).”
“I definitely enjoyed the victory,” Purdue graduate Mark Ousley of Cedar Rapids said in the Kinnick parking lot, “but the program’s definitely not going in the right direction.”
As opposed to Iowa fans, who hated the result, with a program that’s definitely not going in the right direction. Not this season, anyhow, in which the Hawkeyes are all but guaranteed their first losing regular-season since 2000. That’s with a Big Ten schedule that didn’t include Ohio State or Wisconsin, but did feature league punching bags Indiana and Purdue.
Granted, Iowa is missing two key offensive lineman, running back Mark Weisman, and fullback Brad Rogers. But it isn’t as if it were a defense-dominating unit before those players got hurt. Ten games in, and the offense is as hard to watch as it was in Game 1 against Northern Illinois. Harder, actually.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, as always, pointed the finger to execution. Game-planning and play-calling never seem to share in the blame. Asked if he had thought execution-fundamentals would still be a problem 10 games into the season, he said this:
“I would counter that and just tell you that I thought we played pretty good in our opening game of the Big Ten (against Minnesota). I thought we played pretty well the next week, too, against a very good (Michigan State) football team. It’s not like this has been a dog-crap team.
“We played good football against Minnesota, we played very good football at Michigan State in very tough circumstances.”
Oh my. That was four games ago. Four losses ago. That was before a defeat to an Indiana team that absorbed a 62-14 beating and surrendered 564 rushing yards to Wisconsin Saturday. That was before a loss to a Purdue team that was fresh off a 34-9 home-field loss to Penn State, and four other league losses before that.
That was before Iowa played the Big Ten’s two worst rushing defenses in succession in Indiana and Purdue, and couldn’t rush for 100 yards against either.
No, the Hawkeyes aren’t “executing.” But even dull defenses look sharp and smart when it comes to down-and-distance situations involving Iowa.
“Play-calling has got something to do with everything,” Ferentz said, “but I think our execution — I’m going off 13-plus years here — that’s typically what it comes down to after games.”
Yes, the teams that play better generally win. But Central Michigan, Indiana and Purdue — there isn’t a good team among them — sure seemed a lot more aggressive and confident on both sides of the ball against Iowa than they normally do.
Those feelings didn’t start to wash over them once they saw how Iowa’s players were performing. Those teams came into those games having their done their homework on the Hawkeyes. Even poor students will ace tests when they know the answers beforehand.