Dream Dies in Evanston

Iowa came into the 2010 season with big dreams and goals. Those, for all intents and purposes, died here at Ryan Field on Saturday with a 21-17 loss against Northwestern.

EVANSTON, Ill. - Iowa players and Kirk Ferentz didn't have much to say. The mantra remained the way it has win or lose for this coaching staff‘s tenure. Time to move on.

That 24-hour rule might help the Hawkeyes prepare better for Ohio State. That's good.

However, many goals and dreams died here on Saturday in a gut-wrenching 21-17 loss to Northwestern. Hopes of a Big Ten title and a second BCS game in a row remained lifeless on the rain soaked Ryan Field.

The Hawkeyes embarked on this season with huge expectations, inside and out of the program. They were coming off of a BCS bowl win, two straight January postseasons in Florida and a senior laden team. A 2-0 start put them in the Top 10.

All of that gold was off of the table after Saturday's contest. These Iowa players, especially the seniors, will relive this game for a long time no matter how many 24-hour periods pass. It was an opportunity lost.

There's plenty of blame to go around. And that's the case with this season. Arizona, Wisconsin, Northwestern, are losses where you give the other team credit while remembering they were incomplete efforts in all three phases by you.

Last year's Iowa team found ways to win. The Hawkeyes drove the ball late for victories. This season, the opponents marched on Iowa late and the Hawkeye offense blew up during final drives. And special teams have been anything but all year.

We're 10 weeks in. Iowa is 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten. They're a good team. They're just not elite, which many feel they should be.

"It's Game 10 and we're certainly not where we want to be," Iowa Senior Julian Vandervelde said. "You come out and play a team like Northwestern, who, if you make mistakes, they'll capitalize. Our problem with them in the past is that we've made too many mistakes. Sure enough, we came out today and obviously had too many penalties. We had the interception. There were just a lot of mistakes that we need to clean up.

"That is part of improving, getting rid of those mistakes early in the season. We're not where we want to be."

Iowa looked flat out of the gate on Saturday. Key penalties on their first two drives led to three and outs. Last week, the Hawkeyes committed nine penalties in escaping Indiana with an 18-13 win.

Iowa's first try on defense resulted in the Wildcats driving 62 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. The march followed a 37-yard punt by Ryan Donahue, certainly not his best effort.

The Hawkeyes showed personnel issues early on defense. They were using a base 3-4 against Northwestern's spread offense. They did make adjustments with dime packages on passing downs and held the Wildcats without a point until the fourth quarter.

Iowa's offense got its feet under it in the third quarter. Ricky Stanzi connected with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a 70-yard TD strike and found Marvin McNutt from 5 yards out as the visitors secured a 17-7 lead heading into the final quarter.

Iowa Linebacker Jeremiha Hunter picked off a Dan Persa pass giving his team the ball at its own 38 yard line with 13:23 remaining in the game. The Hawkeyes moved the ball down to Northwestern 38. After a five-yard false-start penalty on Brad Herman, Stanzi threw the ball into double coverage to Johnson-Koulianos instead of feeding a wide open McNutt underneath.

"I made a costly mistake and it turned the game around," Stanzi said. "I lost the guy I was supposed to read. I couldn't see him in the shuffle of things. Marvin was running wide open, but I thought a guy would jump down on him. It didn't work out that way."

Although it cost Iowa a possible kill shot, the defense still had the Wildcats pinned at their own 15. But as happened at Arizona and against Wisconsin, the defense couldn't hold up.

Persa engineered a 13-play, 85 yard touchdown drive that pulled the home team within three points of the lead at 17-14. The good news for Iowa was that it took 4:35 off the clock and Iowa got the ball back with 6:21 remaining in the fourth.

Stanzi completed a first-down pass to Allen Reisner to move the ball out to the Iowa 39. Three players later, Donahue was punting again. He hit a good one that was downed on the Northwestern nine. The Wildcats had 4:08 on the clock and three timeouts.

The Hawkeye defense was gassed from the previous drive and trying to contain Persa all day. The Northwestern QB stung the defense early in the march when he raced 22 yards for a first down on a third and 4. He then completed passes to four different receivers, the last one a 20-yard TD to Arby Fields for a 21-17 lead.

"That's what hurts the most," Hunter said. "We're up and then they end up pushing the ball the last minutes of the game and we just can't capitalize. It hurts. We fight every game. It's a heartbreaker, man. It hurts."

The Iowa offense took possession of the ball with 1:22 on the clock and two timeouts. They looked stuck in mud for most of the drive, which included 15 plays. They only traveled to the Northwestern 45 before turning it over on downs. Michigan State 2009 it was not.

"It's a pretty big letdown," Iowa Running Back Adam Robinson said. "It is disappointing that we're out of the Big Ten race. We have two games left, so we have to end the season on a positive note."

That won't be easy. There's a lot of motivation in pursuing a conference title and a chance at a big bowl. Iowa needs to be pushed by ending on a high note and laying the groundwork for the 2011 season.

"We have an identity that we need to establish," Vandervelde said. "We have momentum that we need to build for next year now. That's all going to start next week."

It's been an uncharacteristically sloppy season from the Hawkeyes under Ferentz's watch. Penalties, special teams gaffs, inconsistent defense, poor clock management and more.

"We all have stuff we have to work on now," Vandervelde said . "It's not just one area. It's all three phases. We can all do stuff better. It's up to us now not to get discouraged by this and separate us but to come together as a team with one cohesive mindset. That we're going to work and everyone is going to be better.

"We still play for a lot of things; pride, first of all. No matter what your record is you have to have enough heart as a Hawkeye that you're going to play your heart out every single Saturday. We're playing for our fans. They deserve to see better than what we put out there on the field today. We're going to come back next week and we're going to put something better on the field."

Easier said than done. This team has had 10 weeks to clean things up and they were more than apparent here on Saturday.

We have a good idea what we have in the 2010 Hawkeyes. They're a good football team, not a great one, which they might have been.

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