Howe: Setback at IU Worst Loss in Ferentz Era

Iowa certainly has suffered its share of losses in Kirk Ferentz's seven-plus years in charge, but Saturday's 31-28 defeat at Indiana was like no other. Iowa admitted to being out hustled, something that can't happen to this program. senior writer Rob Howe explains why he feels this is the worst loss in the Ferentz Era in this premium opinion piece.

BLOOMINGTON - The Hawkeyes were mired in a postgame atmosphere so rare memory can't even recall anything similar. Iowa had lost games in the Kirk Ferentz Era, but this one felt different.

The Iowa head coach and his players talked about being out hustled and out worked. That's shocking. The program that broke the rock broke down here in Saturday's unlikely 31-28 loss to Indiana.

Quite simply, this ranks as the worst loss in Ferentz's seven-plus years running the program. Iowa lost because the other team wanted it more and not because the Hoosiers were better.

Go ahead, watch the game tape, Iowa clearly was the better group. Granted, Indiana gave the Hawkeyes its best shot. But the Iowa knew that was coming and still lacked the necessary drive to beat an inferior opponent.

"We got what we deserved," Ferentz said.

The coach has uttered these words before but not after a loss to an opponent to which it had no business losing. Iowa lost a lot of games in 1999 and 2000, but it was because of inferior talent not because of being - GASP - out hustled.

Indiana had not beaten a team as highly ranked as Iowa (No. 15) since 1987, when Ronald Reagan was serving our country as president and some folks thought the mullet was a good look. Southern Illinois and Connecticut came into Memorial Stadium and beat the Hoosiers this season.

Folks, this might be an Indiana team on the rise, but talent-wise, especially in the trenches, it's not there yet. But, they possess a drive and a feisty head coach in Terry Hoeppner determined to kick back.

The Hoosiers brought to mind the Hawkeye team from 2000 that won at Penn State. The Nittany Lions boasted superior talent, but Iowa wanted it more. It out worked and out hustled the giant.

Since Iowa began turning the corner in ‘01, two setbacks stand out as games you could argue that Iowa was the superior team - Michigan State in ‘03 and Northwestern last season. But in those games, the effort was there. And those opponents went to bowl games.

Iowa certainly has tasted defeat against teams with greater or equal talent. But Hoosier quarterback Kellen Lewis was starting his second game and played behind two true freshmen on the offensive line. The Hawkeyes recorded one sack.

In no way should we say that this game defines the season. It's just 1/12 of the campaign. Iowa has a knack for circling the wagons.

Still, this game sent up a red flag. Complacency crept into the program. The other team played tougher and meaner - OUCH!.

You could see something different in the eyes of Kirk Ferentz beneath Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Shock, amazement protruded from his gaze.

"We looked exactly the opposite of what our vision of what an Iowa football team should look like," Ferentz said. "That is my responsibility. I am the head coach and I didn't have the guys ready to play today. We did not do well in any phase really. They executed their offense real well, and I am not sure that we slowed them down in any phase."

Yeah, the coaches share blame, but Ferentz called it a team effort, which is ironic because the effort wasn't nearly where it needed to be. His point of spreading the blame was dead on.

Iowa talked all week in practice about limiting penalties, Ferentz said. Yet, offensive linemen Mike Jones and Seth Olsen found it OK to solicit personal foul penalties for drilling opponents when plays were long completed. All in all, Iowa committed seven penalties for 80 yards and most were of the brain freeze variety.

In what has become an ugly pattern within the Hawkeye receiving corps, dropped passes continued to haunt the team. It seemed appropriate that Iowa's final drive ended with a balling slipping through the hands of Andy Brodell and into those of Indiana safety Will Meyers, who dove to make a one-handed interception. He wanted it.

Damien Sims has shown exciting playmaking ability, but he's also displayed a penchant for coughing up the football with three in the last two weeks. His fumble just killed a key Iowa drive deep in Hoosier territory.

Ferentz took the blame for going after an Indiana punt in the second quarter that resulted in a roughing call. But the player also needed to be aware of the situation.

Sending Kyle Schlicher out to attempt a 51-yard field into a stiff wind during the first quarter caused some head scratching. He later missed a 34-yarder.

Even with some questionable coaching decisions, dropped passes, turnovers, dumb penalties, missed kicks, ineffective special teams play, etc., the most disturbing aspect on this day was Indiana playing harder. That was just hard to swallow.

Hustle and toughness signified Iowa football earlier this decade. The Hawkeyes were hungry to the point of starvation. Indiana threatened them the last time they were here in ‘02, but that Iowa team gutted it out.

Ferentz and his players denied looking ahead to next week's game at Top 5 Michigan, but a lot of pundits are viewing it that way. And with the Hawkeyes in October, things usually have started rolling from here…forward.

"You can come with a million explanations, but the bottom line is that we did not look like a hustling and sharp football team and that is disappointing," Ferentz said. "The last two weeks we really made significant improvement, but today we took a big step backwards, and that is hard to live with."

Winning games against opponents they should beat has helped define the Hawkeyes of the Ferentz Era. They took every opponent seriously. They played with very little pulse on Saturday.

Perhaps Indiana goes on to play in a bowl. The Hoosiers need to find two more wins in a set of five games that includes Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue. OSU, Minny and PU are road trips.

If that happens, you can maybe amend this being labeled as the worst loss under Ferentz. But Iowa leaves Bloomington knowing that it gave life to a team it should have beaten and possibly got the ball rolling towards IU's first bowl appearance since '93.

I'm confident that Ferentz and his staff will receive a better effort for Michigan, but they can't turn back the clock. Let's just hope we don't hear the Hawkeyes talk about being out hustled anytime soon. That can't occur if this program wants to continue on a successful path.

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