Howe: Familiar Tune Plays at Kinnick

The Iowa football team found itself on the wrong end of a 24-21 score against Wisconsin on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Senior Writer Rob Howe soaked in the game from the press box and was hit with a round of deja vu as the Hawkeyes fell short of making the plays necessary to win.

Bill Murray would feel right at home around the Iowa football team this season. Shuffling from player to player in Saturday's post-game, I begin to feel déjà vu as they talk about missed plays and mistakes, going back to work and moving forward.

You could buy those words earlier in the season. History said that things would get better. The problem was that history wasn't lining up in Black and Gold. This team was mired in the present, a very frustrating space.

I asked Drew Tate if it seemed like it was delivering the same post-game interview he's given a lot this season.

"Yeah, same thing," the senior quarterback said. "It's the same stuff. It's just making plays. We made some plays, but we've got to make the plays when it's time to make the plays. If you're going to make them, make them when it really counts. We just didn't do it."

They didn't do it on Saturday in a 24-21 loss against 16th-ranked Wisconsin. They haven't done it enough this year. That's why a team picked to finish third in the Big Ten in the preseason secured its first losing season in the Big Ten since 2000, Kirk Ferentz's second as head coach.

Dropped passes, turnovers, lack of effort, missed tackles, mind-numbing penalties, poor communication; they've all reared their ugly heads to result in Iowa being 6-5 heading into next week's season finale at Minnesota. Each week, the factors have taken turns doing in the Hawkeyes.

"Some games you have to perfect everything you can to come out with a win," Iowa Safety Marcus Paschal said. "We haven't been doing that this year. Our record speaks for it."

Iowa compiled a 31-7 record from '02-04 with two Big Ten Championship teams in there. The Hawkeyes delivered the plays when they needed them. These Hawkeyes have watched the opposition make plays from Ohio State to Indiana to Michigan to Northwestern to Wisconsin marching 97 yards for the winning touchdown on Saturday.

Tate said the team still was enduring communication issues on the field. How is that possible in the 11-game of the season.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know."

The extremists on the message boards are calling for Ferentz to fire assistants and replacing starters with backups. It's Drew Tate's fault. It's Norm Parker's fault. It's the secondary's fault. It's Ken O'Keefe's fault. It's the receivers' fault. It's the defensive line's fault.

Well, they're all right. They all share the blame. And it's failed expectations that have everybody up in arms. We feel like fools for picking this team to contend for a Big Ten title and BCS game.

The bottom line is crystal clear at this point. This just is an average team. It is what it is. Its individual parts look enticing. It boasts a senior quarterback, veterans on both lines and seniors at kicker and punter. But sometimes the collective parts just don't add up to a productive sum.

This Iowa teams falls short in possessing the edge, the extra gear if you will, enjoyed by other Hawkeye teams of this decade. Some guys on this squad set forth with the passion in the neighborhood of Bob Sanders, Nate Kaeding and Robert Gallery, but it isn't prevalent enough throughout this unit.

As I was conducting post-game interviews on Saturday, I remembered talking with Hawkeye players following a disappointing 20-10 loss at Michigan State to start the '03 season. I watched Gallery pull his 300-pound frame into the makeshift interviews rooms at East Lansing. He looked so pissed off by the loss, hesitancy to approach filled by body.

Saturday, I just didn't see the same anger inside the eyes of the players. Ed Miles and Mike Elgin looked disappointed, but Paschal and Tate were smiling at times during their post game interviews.

"When you go out there and lay everything out on the field, you can't be (too upset)," Paschal said. "We came up on the short end of the stick. It was senior day. Emotions were flying. What can you ask for? You go out and play your best. Some of the plays didn't come out as you wanted, but you can't take them back now. They happened."

I'm not trying to pile on any individuals. Paschal and Tate most certainly play with as much passion as any Hawkeyes on this year's team. Miles also fits in that category.

"We played hard and it came right down to the end," Miles said. "What else can you ask for? We need to make plays."

That's just hard to swallow. The statements from Paschal and Miles reek of moral victory.

It becomes even more unsettling watching Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema, a former Hawkeye captain, jog off of the field, arms raised, to a chorus of cheers from a pretty good contingent of Badger fans at Kinnick. This isn't turning out to be a heck of a rebuilding year in Madison. He becomes the first Big Ten coach to win 10 games in his first season.

Bielema's Badgers played hard, fast and nasty; just ask Iowa Tight End Tony Moeaki, who got blown up on a pass play across the middle. Much like the Hawkeyes knocking away a potential game-winning touchdown pass in Madtown in the '03 regular-season final, Wisconsin seemed to deliver big play after big play on Saturday.

"It seems like we've been close a lot," Elgin said. "We just haven't been able to come through and take advantage of the opportunities and stuff that are there."

And isn't that really what separates great teams from good teams from average teams? We all can sit here, pick nits and over analyze the situation. Nothing will change that this is a 6-5 team with a whole bunch of would haves and could haves.

The players talk about going back to work and getting better for next week. That's what they have to hold onto.

"It's heartbreaking," Miles said. "As a senior, you want to go out on top and go out with a win. It's going to be hard to get over this one throughout life because you're going to remember it."

For many fans, it's going to be remembered as a lost season, something they're not accustomed to around here in recent years. But it has gone down all over the country this year and throughout the sports world since the beginning of time. It's just tougher when it's in your fish bowl.

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