The Iowa fans that didn't head for the exits late in the fourth quarter sat in their seats glazed in a daze. They looked out onto the Kinnick Stadium field almost expecting to see more from their team even though the scoreboard read Northwestern 21, Iowa 7 with zeros on the clock.
The Hawkeye faithful has grown accustomed to the hearing In Heaven There is No Beer. Instead, they were stewing in their own version of sports hell.
Coming into the Saturday, Iowa had won 26 of 29 games in Kinnick since the start of the '03 season. Those setbacks came at the hands of Michigan and Ohio State, twice. Though disappointing, there was no shame in that.
But, Northwestern? Hey, no disrespect to the Wildcats, but a team winless in the Big Ten shouldn't come into your stadium and dominate you. And make no mistake, Iowa looked beaten most of the day.
"It hurts a lot," Iowa senior Ed Miles said. "Since I've been here, we've never lost two times in Kinnick (in the same season). That hurts, especially when we're favored and we know we're the better team. We just didn't come out and play like that."
Sound familiar? It should. It's the second time in four weeks that Iowa put forth an inferior effort to a team they were heavily favored to beat.
As a fan, you can live with a team playing hard and losing. But when a team that was built on outworking the opposition stops outworking the opposition, as I said after Indiana, it throws up a red flag.
"When you go out and play with all your effort, which I think we did in Ann Arbor, you can live with that," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're searching for some answers right now."
Really, no one can make excuses for a team that doesn't play hard enough when there are 12 games a year. You can see a basketball game maybe having a letdown, but in football it's once a week for several months.
Not putting forth a maximum effort also magnifies mistakes because many are seen as lazy instead of aggressive in nature.
"We're missing basic plays," Miles said. "We're missing tackles all over. We're just not executing like Iowa. It's not a fact of what they're doing. It's just what we're doing. We're just not executing out there."
It's hard to pinpoint the problem. How does a team that lost at Indiana because of being outplayed come back three weeks later and lay an egg against a team previously winless in the league?
"I don't have any theories on it," Ferentz said. "This is a game where you have to be going. You have to be going full speed. Apparently we're not coaching full speed. Maybe we need to do a little better job, too."
I just can't imagine teams with Bob Sanders or Dallas Clark or Matt Roth or Eric Steinbach or Sean Considine or Nate Kaeding or Fred Russell or Jonathan Babineaux or other players from earlier in this decade letting down. They're known for, in most cases, getting the most of their potential.
The aforementioned players won Big Ten titles and helped the Hawkeyes build their recruiting. Iowa landed a Top 10 class a few years ago and come along way since signing the lowest rated group in the Big Ten in '99.
Perhaps the perceived increase in natural talent is part of the problem. Maybe some of these guys, and I'm not saying all, don't have the fire of their predecessors. Maybe they expect to just line up in September thinking sunny Florida is a given come January.
Guys like Bob and Dallas were fighting for respect. The current players haven't been fighting to sustain or further that respect. The Hawkeyes have gone from the hunters to the hunted and the opposition is enjoying the haul.
"We don't wear the favorite role too well," Ferentz said. "I thought we looked like fat cats (Saturday). We played like fat cats and they looked like a hungry team. That's my responsibility and that's certainly not the identity that we're looking for as a football team."
One certainly has to hold the players accountable for the lack of effort, whatever the reason. Scholarships come with expectations and effort should be a given. Ferentz said that the team finished the week with a very poor practice and missed some basic pass blocking schemes throughout Saturday's game.
The coaches also deserve blame. Players must reach a certain level of self motivation, but their tutors also must locate the right buttons to push. We're 10 games in, and this staff isn't finding the right buttons.
The players brought into the program during Ferentz's early years bought into breaking the rock. They seemed to be on the same page and wave length as the coaches. And they were sick of getting kicked around.
It's the responsibility of this Hawkeye staff to reach this group of players. If not, eventually they might be motivated by being beat up by the Northwesterns and the Indianas of the world.
The Hawkeye Nation message boards are loaded with posts saying Ferentz needs to make changes in his staff. I don't buy it. These are the same guys that went for four January bowls in a row. They haven't forgotten how to X and O, but there's more to the game than that.
Iowa safety Miguel Merrick said after the game that it's up to the team to stay together for the last two games. He was pretty sure that the fans and media won't be with them. Hawkeye running back Albert Young and center Mike Elgin said they understand being booed by the Iowa crowd on Saturday.
Two regular season games remain for Iowa to find the heart that Northwestern and Illinois and Indiana have played with this season. Heck, if the Hawkeyes want inspiration they can look tapes from '00 when their program won at Penn State and beat a ranked Northwestern team at home. They need to prove that the shoe isn't moving to the other foot.
"The seniors don't want to go down as a 7-5 club," Miles said. "We want to win. We've just got to come to play…everybody."
But, we've heard this before. After Indiana, the Hawkeyes said they learned their lesson about playing hard for 60 minutes.
"You can talk all you want," Miles said. "But it's not about talking. Sooner or later, you've got to stop talking and start walking."
This team has two games left to get on its feet and turn it around. Whether it does or doesn't, Ferentz has a new area on which to focus this offseason.
After the '02 Orange Bowl loss against USC, the coach redesigned his postseason approach for the better. Following last season, the Hawkeyes worked on improving in September and responded with a 4-1 in that month this fall.
It might be hard to see the forest through the trees right now, but Ferentz and his coaches have succeeded in finding answers in the past. Be disappointed, the coaches and players certainly are, but be sure to look at the whole picture. Two of the other teams that had joined Iowa in playing in January the last four years, Florida State and Georgia, also have four losses.