Howe: 2-0 and A Ways to Go

Heavily-favored Iowa slipped past an opponent for the second week in a row on Saturday with a come-from-behind win against Ball State. While 2-0 is the way to go, the Hawkeyes see plenty of room for improvement in some usually strong areas of the program.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - What we've learned two weeks into the 2014 season is that Iowa keeps its fans on the edge of their seats. Sometimes you're throwing things at the TV or burying your head in your hands. Other occasions, you're high-fiving or hugging the person next to you.

Eight days, two wins, by an averaged of six points against two opponents the Hawkeyes were favored to beat by more than two touchdowns. It hasn't been easy wearing black and gold. But at least the new Herky removed the helmet that looked like a bad hairpiece. He kept the shoes, though.

After eight quarters we know Iowa has a lot of room for improvement. Saturday, we learned it in a 17-13, come-from-behind win against Ball State of the MAC in a game that looked like a loss for 55 minutes.

The players, coaches and fans here at Kinnick Stadium appeared relieved. They should be. Iowa didn't deserve to lose but its bevy of mistakes certainly made it possible.

"The best thing, again -- and I said that last week -- I thought the team responded in tough circumstances," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Not to take anything away from Ball State or Northern Iowa, who lost 31-23 here last Saturday, but the tough circumstances each week have been, in large part, self created. Game 1 saw the Hawkeyes uncharacteristically allow UNI the same big play three times. In their second contest, they fumbled twice, one that went for a touchdown, and missed three field goals inside of 40 yards.

We can sit here and say Iowa stands at 2-0 and it's better than the alternative. It's started seasons slow before and gotten on a roll. True, and those teams fixed what was broken and became, for the most part, complete.

Opinions will vary on Iowa's biggest soft spot through two games. Regardless of how you rank them, the rushing offense and field goal kicking are the sorest of thumbs.

People also are mad at the quarterback but that's as definite as death and taxes when a team isn't firing on all cylinders. Through two contests, Jake Rudock is 64 of 93 (68.8 percent) for 572 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Yes, he misses open receivers sometimes, but he's not a problem, and he put the team on his back with two touchdown drives in closing five minutes on Saturday.

Most troubling is that an Iowa running back has not led the team in rushing in either '14 game. Receiver Tevaun Smith (1 carry for 35 yards) did it against UNI and Rudock (7-36) paced it on Saturday.

Against Ball State, Iowa's top four running backs - Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels - combined for on 76 yards on 18 carries. That was a step up from last week's 28-for-81-yard performance.

Granted, UNI and Ball State schemed to stop Iowa's rushing attack. The Cardinals run-blitzed a lot.

Still, this is an Iowa team built to run with a deep corp of backs and a veteran, physical offensive line. Opponents have lined up to stop it before and the Hawkeyes impose their will. It hasn't happen this year and that's a huge concern.

"We're going to have to better figure this out because clearly we're not running the ball as effectively as we need to.  It's something we have to revisit tomorrow and think about between now and next Tuesday before we start practicing again," Ferentz said.

Marshall Koehn missing a 37-yard field goal against UNI was eased by it being his first game as the starter and him hitting a 40-yarder on his other attempt. Saturday, the minor cold became the flu.

The Solon native's 26-yard make was sandwiched by misses from 35 and 37 yards. He was replaced in the second half by true freshman Mick Ellis, who promptly misfired from 29 yards. I can't remember the last time Iowa came away empty on a trio of three-point attempts inside the 40 in a game and it's not the type of stat sports information looks up for the media.

To put it in perspective, Nate Kaeding missed a total of three field goals tries inside the 40 during his final three seasons at Iowa. By the way, he was 11 of 12 from 40 and beyond during that stretch, which not-so-coincidently coincided with the best three-year run for Hawkeye football under Ferentz.

Ferentz built his program on strong special teams, running the football and playing stingy, bend-but-don't break defense. Two of those three elements have failed to meet standards through two weeks.

While Iowa's offense performed in crunch time Saturday, it's played into the hands of the defense through the first two weeks, especially on Saturday. UNI and Ball State steered the Hawkeyes to underneath routes, serving them the same medicine they handed out for years. It forces teams to string together numerous plays, raising the possibilities of a mistake.

Through two games, Iowa has produced 53 first downs and 48 points. Saturday, the Hawkeyes were held to one field goal in their first four red zone chances before the late game explosion.

Iowa's defense played solidly on Saturday. The Cardinals were held to 219 yards on 66 plays, an average gain of 3.3 yards. They employed one of the more conservative attacks the Hawkeyes likely will see this year, but the home team's physical front four dictated that.

Iowa's linebackers and secondary still are susceptible to dynamic offenses but they held up on Saturday. Building confidence is part of the growing process.

No, this Hawkeye team is not ready for prime time. There are holes to be filled.

"Outside of our field goals, the special teams played pretty well.  The defense gave us a chance to stay alive, and then obviously the offense rallied there in the fourth quarter," Ferentz said.

"So hopefully, we can all look back and say, hey, we learned something about ourselves today.  We're all set to look back and say there's a lot to clean up here.  We have ten tough games ahead of us, and there's going to be more of the same each and every week.  So we have to maximize our opportunities a little bit better."

Or the results could change in a hurry.

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories