COLUMBUS – The man that usually keeps his cool lost some of it on Saturday.
Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz started showing signs of concern a few weeks ago, and it's remained apparent all has not been right in Hawkeyeville. He's been giving unusually short responses to questions at press conferences. You got the sense that he was searching for answers.
After Saturday's 31-6 butt kicking by the mighty Buckeyes here at The Shoe, The Captain still was scratching his head for solutions regarding his crew. And again, he displayed an uncommon irritability that belied his normal calm-in-any-storm personality during the postgame.
Ferentz was ushered into the back of the media room as the first Iowa representative. While he was conducting his radio interview, Hawkeye quarterback Drew Tate was led to the same area where the waiting media throng pounced. That started the problems.
After completing his radio talk, the coach walked up to the podium to meet with the rest of the reporters. Taking control of the situation, he asked Iowa Sports Information Director Phil Haddy to bring Tate up there with him. "That's about the only thing I'll coach worth a (expletive deleted) today," the coach joked under his breath. He was kidding, but clearly unhappy.
The situation escalated when during the Ferentz-Tate session with the media, Haddy yelled out that Chad Greenway had entered the room and was available for interviews. Haddy normally conducts the proceedings this way, but this time it didn't agree with the coach.
Ferentz stopped in the middle of his comment and barked at Haddy for not letting him finish before pulling the media members away for his players. The coach commented that he was a paid employee and threw in a "Jesus Christ" at the end of the scolding before catching himself and apologizing for the reference.
The atmosphere in the room intensified. Haddy turned red. Uneasiness reigned.
Was this scene a huge deal? Probably not, but it was very unusual and out of routine. It felt like being around a group in uncharted waters with an uneasy Captain.
Plenty of season and important games lay ahead. This program owns a reputation for producing teams that improve with time. That certainly remains a possibility with a proven coaching staff and a high level of talent. But this team needs to get better…a lot better in a hurry.
Ohio State, like Iowa State two weeks ago, bullied the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes pounded the ball 60 times on the ground for 314 yards. They converted 13 of 18 third down attempts. Those numbers were demoralizing.
In the early going of Iowa's two losses, it fell short of reaching the emotional level of their opponents. Little mistakes like dropped passes or missed assignments have aided the opposition in seizing momentum and gaining an edge. Iowa's attention to fundamentals through mental preparedness helped this program reach lofty heights the last three years.
The Iowa players denied not being emotionally ready. But what the Hawkeyes think might have been good enough might not be good enough, if that makes sense.
Iowa no longer rolls into games as Tiny Tim. Its reputation proceeds it as one of the top programs in the country. It means something for opponents to beat the Hawkeyes. They may need to increase their level to stave off the hunters.
Ferentz also voiced concern last year that his younger players might not understand the sweat and focus it takes for a program like Iowa to maintain its success. The worry might have been a season premature.
The overused word "Chemistry" also could be playing into Iowa's struggles. Most of us assume that with a lot of veterans returning, the team just steps to the next level. Many of Iowa's returning athletes look like they've never worked together before.
Same page? These guys haven't even been in the same book.
It's worrisome that almost every player in Saturday's postgame said that the team enjoyed a good week of practice. It didn't guarantee a great game, but you would have thought it meant being competitive.
Iowa sophomore Bryan Mattison always looks on the bright side of things, but even he seemed down Saturday.
"It's hard to stay positive," the sophomore said. "They kicked the crap out of us. But we just have to watch the film tomorrow and get better."
Teams are taking it right at the Hawkeyes' inexperienced defensive line. Ohio State rushed the ball right at center of it with great success. The growing pains for the unit that many predicted before the season have been playing out.
"It's tough," Mattison said. "But it's how you respond. You're just not going to cry yourself to sleep every night now in the middle of the season. We still have a lot of season left and a lot of improving to do."
This team needs to keep believing that. Its confidence is shaken and future uncertain, not unlike coming out of Michigan with an identical 2-2 record a year ago.
Everybody, including the head coach, needs to breathe deep and come together. New air filled with doubts and stress swirls around them, but history says they can overcome obstacles.
And if Saturday's loss doesn't break them, the Hawkeyes certainly can use the experience as motivation.
"You remember how that felt looking up on the board and seeing 315 yards rushing," Mattison said. "We've got get better. It's that simple."