It was fitting that it rained in Eastern Iowa Sunday. The rain was a long time coming here.
Had Iowa’s football team not hung on to defeat Iowa State Saturday in Ames, the toxic levels in Hawkeyeland would have been extremely unhealthy.
We might have needed extra-strength gloves and protective goggles to discuss the Hawkeyes on Monday night’s “On Iowa Live” telecast. It had been a long enough last 13 months for Iowa football and its fans as it was.
Not that the 27-21 win over the Cyclones in Ames was a cure-all for Iowa, or even a clear sign the Hawkeyes are ready to do business as a competitive Big Ten outfit. Iowa State isn’t a good team, not in September 2013. It didn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the ISU squads that beat Iowa in 2011 and 2012.
That’s just compounded when injuries force you to go to third-stringers on offensive line, which ISU did at two positions Saturday including the critical center spot. But the Cyclones not only can’t run the ball, they can’t stop the run. Iowa rushed for 68 yards against ISU last year. That went up to 218 Saturday.
You can’t stop the run, you can’t win. Iowa State is 107th in the nation in rushing defense. At No. 113 is Western Michigan, which just happens to visit Iowa Saturday in a game I strongly feel like dubbing the Foregone Conclusion.
And here’s where a sportswriter who had paid attention to recent events in college football would nip that cute stuff in the bud. Lowly Akron almost won at Michigan Saturday, Iowa lost to Central Michigan last year, and so forth. Still …
Western Michigan (0-3) is having understandable growing pains under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck. Between a 26-13 loss at Michigan State and Saturday night’s 38-17 defeat at Northwestern, the Broncos lost to Nicholls State at home, 27-23.
Nicholls State, an FCS program, won one game in each of the previous two seasons. Both were against NAIA program Evangel College. Saturday night, Nicholls State lost to Louisiana-Lafayette, 70-7.
Can you fathom the kind of atmosphere that would have surrounded Kinnick Stadium for an 11 a.m. game with Western Michigan were Iowa fresh off its third-straight loss to Iowa State and eight-consecutive defeat to BCS teams? But if there’s a college football version of FEMA, it can spend all its Midwest resources in Nebraska this week after the Cornhuskers’ 40-21 loss to UCLA in Lincoln. Iowa City is safe for the moment.
“All our guys are really pleased,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after the victory at Jack Trice Stadium. There are no bad wins when you had dropped 11 of your previous 16 games. There are no bad wins, period.
It was still a road game, it was still the rivalry game, and a less-than-focused Iowa team would have found ways to lose this one. It’s not like the Hawkeyes kept total focus for 60 minutes as it was. The Cyclones, to their credit, never quit and made the finish interesting. If you were among the many who left the stadium with the score 27-7, you missed some ISU fireworks.
However, Iowa should have felt good on that bus ride back to Iowa City. Sixty rushes for 218 yards may only compute to 3.6 yards a carry, but … 60 rushes!
Thirty-eight minutes of ball-possession, 11-of-20 on third-down conversions, allowing ISU just 59 rushing yards on 24 carries — those are good things, clear signs of growth. Yet, recent history and the last six minutes of this game give Ferentz’s players no reason to get puffy about anything.
“Next week won’t be easy,” Ferentz said after Saturday’s game. But at least Hazmat suits won’t be necessary in the week leading up to the Foregone Conclusion, er, Western Michigan game.