Howe: Iowa is Bad

With a tough November approaching, Iowa reminded its fans with a loss at lowly Minnesota on Saturday that things could get worse. The Hawkeyes need a serious turnaround the save the season.

MINNEAPOLIS - Iowa coaches and players said what was expected after losing to lowly Minnesota, 22-21, here on Saturday. They credited the Golden Gophers for being a tough team.

Sorry, that doesn't compute. The Golden Gophers are a bad team.

And you know what? Iowa isn't very good either.

The Hawkeyes can boast one quality win this season - the comeback against Pittsburgh in Septmember. They head to November unlikely to be favored in any of their remaining games.

Minnesota lost to New Mexico State and North Dakota State this season. The Golden Gophers had been outscored by a combined 103-3 in the first halves of their three previous Big Ten games coming into Saturday. They went into the intermission tied at 7-7 with Iowa.

To makes matters worse, Iowa's Marcus Coker, James Vandenberg and Micah Hyde all said after the game that Minnesota played with more energy in the second half on Saturday. That came a year after the then-two-win Golden Gophers knocked off the bowl-bound Hawkeyes here at the end of November. Two of the Gophers three Big Ten wins during the last two seasons have come against the Hawkeyes.

How does that happen in a rivaly game with a trophy at stake?

"I don't know," Hyde said. "We just have to work harder."

That approach washes when a team is talented and has the drive to win. It's becoming painfully obvious that this team doesn't have enough of either.

Coach Kirk Ferentz has been known during his tenure at Iowa for getting his teams to improve as the season progressed. That didn't happen last year when the team lost its last three games in November.

Credit the staff for getting the 2010 Hawkeyes ready to beat ranked Missouri in the Insight Bowl last December. But that used to be the cherry of top of strong regular-season finishes.

Ferentz and his staff have one of the biggest chores ahead of them since taking over the program in 1999. Overcoming obvious faults on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, won't be easy.

The combined record of the two teams (Northwestern and Indiana) the Hawkeyes have beaten in the Big Ten this year is 5-11. Their next two opponents - Michigan and Michigan State - are 13-3.The game at 4-4 Purdue will not be a lay-up and the season-finale at 7-1 Nebraska could be ugly.

Iowa can't stop the run, a staple of coordinator Norm Parker's past defenses. It came into Saturday ranked eighth in the conference against the run and allowed the Gophers to get 178. Minnesota ranked 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense coming into the contest.

That's a problem when playing in the Midwest during November. That's always an issue when playing in the Big Ten.

Perhaps this Iowa defense improves, but the chances seem unlikely it will be enough. The coaches and players are seemingly working on this issue and have since August. It's not about injuries and inexperience. It's about a lack of talent.

Some Iowa fans might find that charge a bit harsh for college kids. It should be viewed more as an indictment of Ferentz and his coaches for not doing a better job of preparing the guys they have, retaining guys that have left and recruiting at a higher level in the front four.

While we're on the subject of coaching, Minnesota Head Coach Jerry Kill and his staff outwitted the Hawkeye sideline. They were agressive from start to finish.

After missing a two-point conversion that would have pulled his team within a field goal of Iowa's lead, Kill called for an on-side kick instead of sulking about a missed opportunity. The Golden Gophers had used the same tactic in last year's win against their rival.

"Not totally surprising," Ferentz said of the on-side kick. "I didn't think it was a situation we throw our hands team out there. It was a great call on their part and the execution was outstanding. Excellent call by Coach Kill."


By putting the hands team out there, Ferentz risked Minnesota kicking away and starting deep in his own territory. That's how the coach explained why he took the route he did.

It's much better to have a decent offense starting deep in its own territory than it is putting a suspect defense back on the field in an opposing stadium. I can see maybe making that mistake early in the season, but it's pretty obvious that the defense isn't going to be winning many, if any, ballgames.

The Minnesota players pounced on the on-side kick like it was their final meal. They pushed away the Hawkeyes who had a chance at the ball like flies. They recovered at their own 41.The stadium, which was supposed to be overtaken by Iowa fans, exploded with excitement.

The Golden Gophers fed off of that emotion. Twelve plays later, Minnesota Quarterback MarQueis Gray ran into the end zone on a fourth and goal from the three when Iowa blew contain for what seemed like the millionth time this season.

On the Hawkeyes' final drive, they looked like a team ready to get out of town. Three incomplete passes, none to leading receiver Marvin McNutt, fell harmlessly to the groud. Vandenberg then scrambled nine yards on a fourth-and-15 to end the possession. Minnesota took over and ran out the clock.

Asked after the game why his defense isn't improving, Ferentz paused briefly, then said "I can't answer that right now." That wasn't very comforting for Hawkeye fans.

The coach also could not answer why his team was getting beat on corner blitzes. He chose instead to correct the person asking the question by saying he thought it was a safety who blitzed.

Iowa will need to pull off an upset to become bowl eligible. The Hawkeyes last Big Ten title in 2004 is becoming more of a distant memory.

Ferentz and the Iowa players said Saturday that it was a team loss. Agreed. It was a bad team losing to another bad team.

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