Iowa CITY, Iowa - Through two weeks, Iowa played with fire and avoided being burned. Saturday, the Hawkeyes melted.
"There's nothing fun about losing; never fun to lose an intrastate game, but we've been here before. I'd rather not be here right now, needless to say, but you only have one choice. You go back to work and you've got to work to improve and we've got a lot of football ahead right now."
While there is time, as Ferentz said, things have not come together through three weeks. There have been just too many holes in the ship. They plug one or two and others gush.
Hawkeye seniors Damon Bullock and Quinton Alston said Saturday's contest came down to execution, a lack of it for the home team. ISU Head Coach Paul Rhoads felt his players won the game "between the ears." Both sides were right.
The Cyclones overcame losing a fumble at the Iowa goal line and dropping a sure interception around their end zone that Iowa eventually scored on. Those plays helped the Hawkeyes build a 14-3 halftime lead in front of a sold out Kinnick Stadium. The place was jumping and it looked like the home team had ironed out some wrinkles hurting it through two weeks.
Instead of building on the lead, however, Iowa wilted. Rather than fold up, the Cyclones rose to the occasion. They were the better team Saturday, plain and simple.
And that's the scariest aspect to consider if you're an Iowa fan. This loss cannot be attributed to some fluke. If anything, as mentioned, the Cyclones committed as many key mistakes as the home school.
"It was an intent, focused group that was ready to go out and play the next 30 minutes of the football game," Rhoads said of his team at halftime. "They believed that they could win the game and they went out and physically followed up on that."
What was going on in Iowa's locker room at the intermission? Maybe the Hawkeyes reclined with some chips and salsa.
Iowa managed a robust 102 yards of offense and three points in the second half. It's Year 3 of The Great Greg Davis Offensive Experience and advancement hasn't happened fast enough.
Folks, the Cyclones came into Saturday's game ranked No. 107 out of 124 FBS schools in total defense. They deserved credit for improvement but that didn't tell the whole story. Something is broken with the Hawkeye offense.
"To me, that seemed to be the story of the game. We did a decent job in the first half. Second half, we just never got any traction. Part of it was self-inflicted and part of that is just good play on their part. So, credit goes to them," Ferentz said.
Last week, against a Ball State team that lost Saturday to a bad FCS team in Indiana State, the Hawkeyes scored three points through the game's first 54 minutes. Credit to them for scoring two touchdowns to pull out a 17-13 win but the overall offensive performance did little to sooth concerns.
Iowa's offense returned eight starters in 2014. They'd all been in Davis' system for the two-year transition as had the new first-teamers and most of the back-ups. This group was expected to lead this squad in the early season while the defense grew with five new starters.
Davis has talked for the last three years about employing a system that delivers big plays. So far, we got bupkis.
Iowa's longest play on Saturday was a 33-yard seam pass to tight end Ray Hamilton. After that, Bullock and Tevaun Smith each produced a 14-yard catch and Jacob Hillyer hauled in a 10-yarder. Quarterback Jake Rudock's 13-yard run was the longest of the day and the only one to exceed 10 yards.
So, if you're counting at home, against the 107th-ranked defense, the Hawkeyes produced five plays of 10 or more yards. Four of them yielded no more than 14.
"You always want to get big plays. We're just not getting them," Rudock said.
Iowa's three scoring drives were 16, 10 and 10 plays. That's a tough way to make a living.
So, what's the problem? The Hawkeyes possess playmakers. Smith, Damond Powell, Jordan Canzeri and others are capable of breaking a big one.
Saturday, Smith caught four passes for 34 yards, Canzeri received three carries and produced 18 yards, the only player on the team to average more than 3.2 per tote and Powell was shut out, perhaps by his coaches.
For some reason, Iowa can't find a way to get the ball in the hands of its explosive athletes. It's Davis and Ferentz's job to make that happen. Yes, the head coach has culpability here. Ken O'Keefe is gone and the offense still is as stale as month-old loaf of bread.
Consider this state - The Hawkeyes have 71 first downs and 65 points this season. That's a team moving down the field bit by bit. Most often, when it tries that approach, a mistake will happen or the opponent will create a play to stall the drive.
So, it's back to work for the Hawkeyes. It's what they do. It's all they can do.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's fair to wonder if that's going to be enough.