Howe: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz downplayed poor clock management in Saturday's loss to Wisconsin. The captain isn't going to throw anybody under the bus. That's admirable. But there are plenty of candidates, including the coaches.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - Kirk Ferentz's opening, post-game statement was very short but said a lot.

"We're going to have to go back to work tomorrow," the Iowa Coach said. "It's going to hurt for a while and we'll turn out sights to what's ahead of us."

That was it. No congratulating the opposition. No pointing out his team's bright spots. Two sentences.

It's hard to imagine Ferentz didn't already know the questions that were coming from the media. Perhaps, he figured it was time to get to them. The problem? The really weren't any answers.

A team built on hard-work and discipline looked anything but that on Saturday. Sunday's film review will be littered with examples of what could have been, what should have been in a 31-30 loss to Wisconsin.

No less than five special teams' gaffs proved costly. The poor clock management in the final minute while driving for the potential winning score was mind-numbing.

The Hawkeyes had the ball on their own 25 with three time outs and 1:06 on the clock needing a field goal to win it. They were able to overcome a sack of quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who should have thrown the ball away.

A 20-yard reception by Marvin McNutt to the Wisconsin 42 set up a 4th and 1. Stanzi sneaked the ball for the first at the Badger 39. The clock stopped and the play would have been to spike the ball with one timeout remaining.

Iowa appeared to be in disarray offensively. Stanzi was lined up in the shot gun and his teammates were wandering around confused. Iowa burned its last timeout with :12 on the clock.

So, instead of having the timeout to trot on the field goal unit after the next play or two, Iowa had no way of stopping the clock. Stanzi passed it for four yards to Adam Robinson who tried to run out of bounds. He was tackled short of the sideline and the clock ran out.

"We took the timeout," Ferentz said. "We talked about it ahead of time. Could have (spiked) it. Cost you a couple, three seconds there. You could flip a coin on that one. Again, I don't think it's exactly the turning point."

He's right. It wasn't the turning point. It was their last chance, however, and they blew it.

In addition, after you do use the timeout, at least run a play to the sideline. Throwing it to Robinson in underneath was useless.

"After they called the timeout and there were 12 seconds left, we played cover two to try to keep everything in front of us," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

Bielema almost seemed shocked the Hawkeyes took the timeout when asked about it in his post-game press conference. He recognized the error.

Listen, Ferentz isn't going to throw anybody under the bus here. It's not his style. That's admirable. That's why we like him as the Iowa coach.

But that was a big time flub. Stanzi shouldn't have been in the shot gun. He should have known to spike it after the sneak.

Why? Because Iowa used its second timeout before the sneak play. I find it hard to believe that the discussion in the sideline wasn't "OK, Ricky, you sneak for the first. After that, everybody else get ready to line up so we can spike it after the spot to stop the clock." How can it not be?

Iowa didn't use timeouts on the Badgers' game-winning drive so it would have them on offense. If you have them, have a plan to use them correctly.

Perhaps the Hawkeyes wouldn't have been in that position had they played better on special teams. It wasn't a new problem. And it started early in the game. It's been around to much this season.

After its first touchdown, Mike Meyer had an extra point blocked. It represented the second one of the season. The first came at Arizona. More on that later.

"It ends up being the game," Bielema said. "It's a good example of how our guys play every snap."

Technically, the game was decided by one point. So, that could be considered the difference. But there was plenty of time for Iowa recover. And the Hawkeyes did, again and again. And then they shot themselves in the foot.

A high snap caused Iowa field goal holder Ryan Donahue to have to run with the ball instead of Meyer trying a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter.

"To me, if you really want to look at the game, special teams really hurt us today," Ferentz said. "That's not a good thing. Between that and the penalties, that's not a good thing."

Agreed. But you can't dismiss Iowa's final drive and the poor clock management as being any less critical. Teams all over the country every week win on last-minute marches for field goals.

Another debilitating special teams error came at the end of the third quarter. The Hawkeyes had just taken a 20-17 lead and Meyer's kickoff pinned Wisconsin deep in its own territory. But true freshman Don Shumpert was called for offside on the play.

Badger return man David Gilreath brought back the next attempt 37 yards to the visitors 49. Two minutes later, John Clay ran it in from two yards out to give Wisconsin a 24-20 lead.

Iowa showed its resiliency by scoring the game's next 10 points for a 30-24 advantage with 8:35 to play in the fourth. The Hawkeye defense, which was pushed around most of the afternoon, stiffened up and Wisconsin was faced with a fourth and four from its own 26. The Badgers had one timeout with about five minutes on the clock.

"We were thinking four downs on that drive," Bielema said. "We didn't think it was a good idea to punt it away and then try to stop them and get it back."

Iowa didn't know that, however. Wisconsin lined up for a punt. Punter Brad Nortman waited for the Hawkeyes to drop back and he ran 17 yards for the first down. The Badgers went on to score the go-ahead touchdown and extra point with 1:06 remaining in the game.

"That was something we had seen on film," Bielema said. "With the scheme that we run from a punt standpoint, certain teams are going to defend it differently. We had seen that they had gone with two edge pressures and were covering down. We made the call as soon as I saw them send out the punt return unit. Great execution. Great faith."

The visitors took advantage of their opportunities. They also made some of them. The fake punt was very well done.

Iowa showed for the second time in in seven weeks that its not a complete football team. Special teams, inconsistent defense and some questionable coaching decisions helped cost them in a 34-27 loss at Arizona.

The Hawkeyes have lost two games by a total of eight points. Most years under Ferentz its been a team with a thin margin for error. That means you can't make mental errors.

Iowa still sits in a position to experience a very good season. The Hawkeyes can reach the Rose Bowl if they win out. But that won't happen if they keep making the mistakes they made Saturday.

You are what your record says you are. Ifs and buts mean nothing at the end of the season. We're past the midway point of the season. Costly mistakes are as likely to hand around as they are to go away.

There is no more margin for error if Iowa hopes to reach it's goal of a championship.


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