IOWA CITY, Iowa - History tells us that Iowa often gets better with time. The Hawkeyes should sure hope that's the case this season.
Feel free to comfort yourself by sugar coating Saturday's 28-14 victory against Missouri State. Deep down, objectively, Iowa isn't a good football team right now.
Positive signs showed up. Mark Weisman rumbled for 180 yards on the ground pacing a 489-yard offensive outburst against the Bears. The defense limited its opponent to 197.
If you're overly impressed by those numbers, you're not seeing the big picture. Missouri State is a bad FCS opponent that a strong FBS team would crush at home. The Bears are 3-10 in their last 13 games after Saturday's moral victory at Kinnick Stadium.
Northwestern State won at Missouri State, 23-17, last week. Before the Bears' touchdown with 14:25 to play in the fourth quarter at Iowa, they had gone more than 54 minutes without scoring a point. They drove the ball 75 yards in eight plays before hitting pay dirt against a defense on its heels.
Missouri State followed up its impressive scoring march with a Pick-Six by linebacker Rique Bentley that trimmed the Hawkeye lead to 21-14, 10 seconds later. Iowa was struggling against a team it was favored to beat by 24 points, one that now has lost 10 consecutive non-conference games dating back to 2010.
"We were just happy to get the win," Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
That sentiment prevailed in the post-game press conference with he and the Iowa players. A win was a win. And after seven losses in a row, it was welcomed.
Ferentz media gathering felt like an exercise after a loss. The need for vast improvement generated that vibe.
"We've got a lot of work to do on our end," Ferentz said. "We've got a lot of new players playing, so for us the biggest thing is to push forward and improve. I thought we improved during the week but there's some things today that didn't necessarily, in my opinion, reflect improvement. And those are the things we have to do a better job on."
Three turnovers and some inopportune penalties in a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois last week were followed by 11 flags for 100 yards and an interception returned for a touchdown on Saturday.
"Unless you're really a gifted team, it's hard to overcome those kind of miscues," Ferentz said. "Plus, it's hard to have tempo when your false starts or holding penalties really take away from an offensive teams tempo."
The Hawkeyes also were whistled for a couple of personal fouls on hits out of bounds. Receiver Don Shumpert hurt a few early drives with dropped passes, something that has plagued the senior throughout his career.
Saturday's match-up is what they call in the business a pay-to-win game. Missouri State picks up a bundle of money from its hosts to provide them with a victory outside of the rare occasions when the FCS team is real good and the FBS team plays poorly. Luckily, for the Hawkeyes, the former was not a reality this day.
Iowa also is fortunate that the season continues on for at least 10 more games. Time remains for a shaky football team to improve. Some of their mistakes can be corrected.
The '09 Hawkeyes escaped FCS' Northern Iowa by blocking two late field goals . They continued on to win 11 games and the Orange Bowl. However, that was an experienced team loaded with NFL talent.
More likely, these Hawkeyes should shoot for resembling the '08 team that began 5-4 before reeling off four wins in a row to end the campaign. It experienced the type of improvement from start to finish that seemed more the norm during the first half of Ferentz's 15-year tenure as head coach. The last three seasons have not unfolded that way, to be sure.
These Hawkeyes must fix their problems and come around in a hurry. They bring their slim-margin for error to Ames next week to face rival Iowa State with a quarterback in Jake Rudock making his first collegiate road start.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking Iowa will best the Cyclones based on their opening-game loss to UNI. The Panthers are better than Missouri State and conceivably could have left Iowa City with a win on Saturday.
Iowa State enjoyed a bye week to focus on its issues and next opponent. For the most part during the last decade and a half, the Cyclones have offered Iowa their best shot. The Hawkeyes have not shown the type of punch this season to counter that.