Bad Breaks, Bad Timing Bury Hawks

Iowa teams of recent vintage seemed to find some luck and make their own breaks. The Hawks of '05 can't seem to locate those secrets. It's kind of been a Murphy's Law season. Senior Writer Rob Howe looks at a campaign that needs saving quickly after Saturday's stunning 28-27 loss at Northwestern.

EVANSTON _ Now you know how the opposing fans have felt during the previous three years. Your Hawkeyes thrived on making plays, limiting mistakes and having the preverbal ball bounce their way.

It appears as though the tide has turned. We are experiencing first hand the law of averages working themselves out.

As the Hawkeyes looked to be heading for a big road here Saturday, an unsettling feeling prevailed. Maybe the meltdown against Michigan two weeks ago led to the uneasiness. Maybe it was that little has come easy for this team in '05.

Come on. Admit it. You were thinking in the back of your mind, at the very least, that Northwestern was going to get the on-sides kick, whose odds of working fall somewhere between winning Powerball and a date with Tyra Banks.

Sure enough, Wildcat Kicker Joel Howells boots the perfect ball that hops over the Iowa hands team and into those of a teammate. After that, you knew things weren't going to end well.

"Yeah, we got the bounces last year," Hawkeye Safety Marcus Paschal said. "But I wouldn't say the bounces are going the other way. We're not executing the way we need to. It's on everybody - offense, defense and special teams.

"Our opponent is not controlling what we do on the field. It's us. If we do the things that we need to do, we can come out victorious every week."

A lot of folks still are complaining about the officiating in the Michigan game. Fair enough. It was bad. It also fits into the not-getting-the-breaks category.

Think about how differently things you would have remembered that little game in Orlando last year had a miracle not occurred. Consider how emotionally draining a last-second touchdown pass at Wisconsin in 2003 would have hit you in the gut. Few people recall Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield dropping a pass in '02 that landed in the hands of Iowa's Adolphus Shelton. That could have set up a game-tying field goal.

That's a play from each season that broke Iowa's way. Others occurred. You surely remember some.

The last three Hawkeye teams also found a way to make plays - Brad Banks to Dallas Clark, special teams' gems galore and Chad Greenway tackling Marion Barber for a loss. This year we've watched passes dropped, tackles, field goals and blocks missed, and yes, some questionable play calling from the sidelines.

Last year, maybe Clinton Solomon keeps his footing and catches that pass on the final drive setting up the game-winning field goal. Maybe Albert Young, who deserves a better fate for his effort this season, keeps his balance and races 60 or so more yards for the clincher.

This team also is lacking the killer instinct it has enjoyed recently. It's odd to watch Hawkeye teams roll to nice leads against Michigan and Northwestern, not to mention Indiana and Illinois, before seeing the opponents climb back. It's like the Iowa offense hibernates after starting fast.

"I was just thinking about that in the shower," Iowa Center Brian Ferentz said. "I don't know what to tell you. I wish any one of us had the answer."

Mistakes, oh, let us not forget the mistakes. Iowa came into this fall proceeded by a reputation of improving as the season progressed. They don't beat themselves.

The same can't be said about this season. Dumb penalties seem to pop up on a weekly basis. Can you remember an Iowa team with more personal foul penalties?

Chad Greenway ranks as one of the all-time greatest Hawkeyes. However, the linebacker leaves here knowing he cost in team with a couple of brain freezes on Saturday. He can't be called for two roughing penalties late in the fourth quarter.

"It's a close call," Kirk Ferentz said. "From where I'm standing, chances are those calls are going to get made. You play on. There were still plays to be played after that. It wasn't the story of the game."

"He's a competitive guy," Hawkeye Defensive Tackle Matt Kroul said. "We've had (personal foul calls) all year. It happens being aggressive. You're going to make mistakes."

Fair enough. You just can't do it at that point of the game. He led with his head, a football no-no.

Greenway decided not to share his thoughts about the plays in the post-game. He let his teammates and head coach answer for him.

"In my humble opinion, and not to say the call should have been different, it was a good football play," Brian Ferentz said. "It's ludicrous to think Chad had anything to do with us losing."

That leads us to the area of senior leadership. Guys like Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Clinton Solomon, Brian Ferentz and the other players in their final seasons have two more games to leave their legacy.

"This is their football team," Kirk Ferentz said. "They've got ownership. They always have. They've welcomed that. You know, we're going to need great leadership. We've lost two straight."

Said Brian Ferentz: "The senior class, we've done a poor job leading this football team as evidenced by the last two (games). That falls on our shoulders. In two weeks, wherever we stand, the seniors will be accountable for that."

And don't expect to hear about a players-only team meeting to rally the troops. Iowa will proceed as it has in the past.

"That's bush league," Brian Ferentz said. "We have team meetings every day. That's not going to happen."

Earlier in the season Kirk Ferentz sounded like a man struggling to reach this team. Saturday, he was playing the same song.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win the ballgame," he said. "It's one of those deals where at the end they made the plays they had to make. You have to give them a lot of credit.

"They stepped it up a notch. They did a great job defensively. We weren't able to match that tempo."

The coach stopped short of questioning the effort of his players.

"We played extremely hard," Coach Ferentz said. "I don't know if we could have played any harder. We knew a week ago that Northwestern is a team you have to play a full 60 minutes against, and we weren't able to quite get the job done. We have a hell of a challenge ahead of us now. It's going to be tough to bounce back tomorrow."

It reads like he's saying his team played hard but not well enough when it mattered most. That's tough to take for a team that rolled up a 9-1 November record in the three previous seasons.

Last year, Iowa won three games by a touchdown or less. These Hawkeyes have dropped the last two games by a combined four points.

"That team knew how to win close games," Brian Ferentz said. "This team doesn't. That's self-explanatory. I don't know what else to tell you. We're going to have to figure that out."

The ways things have gone this year, one has to wonder if they can.

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