Howe: Iowa Issues Run Deep

Iowa players admitted Saturday night that Penn State was more physical and hungry to win than were they. That's not a god sign for the Hawkeyes.

The Iowa players moved past their embarrassing loss to Penn State Saturday night within 24 hours. At least that's what the coaches teach them to do.

It has to still be lingering, if only a bit. Thoughts might not be directly connected to situations in the game. Confidence had to be shaken, however, and that can hang around for a while.

Nobody can provide a single reason for the debacle. It's more than poor quarterback play or injuries on the offensive line. The Nittany Lions execution and preparation can't explain away Iowa's ineptness.

The Iowa locker room usually reveals little to the public. Most answers center around working hard and playing better. There's nothing wrong with that, although it gets tedious and boring for outsiders.

Sometimes emotion trickles out of the fortress. The beatdown by Penn State squeezed out some of it.

Hawkeye players stopped short of emptying the vault, but they pointed fingers inward and outward.

"We didn't come out and play hard," senior receiver Keenan Davis said. "They played harder than us."

That's not good. Hang it on the players and the coaches.

"They were more physical than us," senior linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "Coach stressed it all week. Penn State and Iowa, it's always a big game. We knew it was going to come down to who was the most physical and who was the hungriest team."

Again, that's not good. It was the same culprits .

Players on both sides of the ball admitted that Penn State showed them looks they had not yet seen.

"I think they just knew some areas where we were weak," junior linebacker James Morris said. "Not to speak with too much football jargon, but there were certain route combinations giving us problems."

The reasons continue to be unsettling. And they may or may not be correctable.

"It wasn't exactly what we were expecting but they did a lot of things that we were expecting," senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. "They're a really good defense. They mix things up really well."

Seven games into the season, the Iowa offense is anemic and a bit confused.

"I did a poor job of communicating to our guys," senior center James Ferentz said. "I need to do a better job of making sure we're all on the same page. There were a few times there where they had us a little confused. For the most part, they just outplayed us."

Perhaps the Hawkeyes clean it all up and win their next three games (at Northwestern and Indiana, Purdue at Kinnick). They'd head to Michigan at 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten.

If that's the case, pat the players and coaches on the back. It would be an impressive turnaround even if two of the victories come against the basketball state.

While not shocking, it would be surprising to see this team get to eight or nine wins. The above mentioned shortcomings against PSU wouldn't seem to vanish with a flip of a switch.

"They came out ready to play. We didn't," Davis said. "We just have to come out and play hard."

That's great in theory. But can a team that came out flat in arguably it's biggest game of the year be expected to do a 180? And that takes into account the Nittany Lions being more physical, as Kirksey said.

"They played really good and we just didn't come to play," junior safety Tanner Miller said.

When Iowa is going well under Kirk Ferentz's guidance, effort and preparedness aren't factors. It's about maximum energy and breaking the rock. Think back to some season-ending crashes at Minnesota for more evidence.

"We just got outplayed," senior safety Micah Hyde said. "It was us players. We didn't come out how we should. Coaches gave us some good calls. They operated better than us."

Said Kirksey: "We knew we had to match their tempo and intensity. We didn't do it."

If you're looking for a shred of hope after this Debbie Downer column, take comfort in knowing that the unfamiliarity with Penn State's offense greatly aided the visitors. The Lions came to Iowa City off of a bye with a completely altered attack from a year ago.

"We've played against no-huddle teams in the past," Morris said. "Our expectation going into this game was that they were not going to use it as much as they did. When I watched the TV copy (of film), it seemed isolated. They'd use it for a third of a drive or a half of a drive rather than an entire half of a game.

"It caught us off guard. But at the end of the day, you have to line up and play football. They played better when the ball was snapped."

Said Kirksey: "They had our card. They had the different formations, the different routes. They were just picking us (apart)."

In that regard, the Hawkeyes should be better prepared for what they see over the next five weeks. It's hard to believe it will be enough to get them the Big Ten championship they desire.


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