"I've been here for (Orange) Bowls and Capitol One Bowls, and this is the lowest of the lows," Merrick said after the Hawkeyes dropped their regular-season finale, 34-24, against Minnesota here on Saturday.
"We don't come out and play on Saturdays. We practice well and then when the lights come on, we just don't perform. I don't what it is, but it's something."
The something Kirk Ferentz pointed to following the game was inconsistency. Iowa never really did anything well for long enough this season. Spurts of success came here and there, but left too early far too often.
"We came in each week and worked hard," Iowa Safety Marcus Paschal said. "Some games we showed some good things and other games we didn't. We thought that it was going to click one of these days, but we didn't turn the corner. We have one more game and we have to get to the basics."
Several Iowa players, including Paschal, said that Iowa performed well in practice for the most part this season. Then, things failed to click on Saturday.
"I don't think anybody in the nation envisioned this happening to Iowa," Iowa Linebacker Ed Miles said. "But when you come out and play like that throughout the season, what can you expect? I'm not pointing fingers, but we have to play together as a team. We didn't do that this year."
That pretty much mirrored what has been said by players and coaches all season. They haven't played together and there have been communication problems.
"We didn't play tough enough collectively as a team," Miles said. "One part is playing tough and another part is not. There's not much to say, it's just a disappointing year."
As a result, Iowa turned out to be an average team, at best. Ferentz said he didn't think his team was a good.
"You can't say that any team that's 6-6 is a good team," Merrick said. "It's just real tough. We're not a good football team. We don't come out and play every week. The coaches call the plays, we just don't execute. It just comes down to us players saying when do we want to turn this thing around."
Said Iowa Defensive End Bryan Mattison: "It hurts to hear it, but he's an honest man. We lost six games. That's it."
No statistic tells more about Iowa than its turnover margin. The top two teams in the country, Michigan and Ohio State, both rank in the Top Ten nationally in the statistic. The Hawkeyes sit near the bottom.
"We turn over the ball too much," Iowa Running Back Albert Young said. "We know what the problem is. That is the problem."
Iowa committed an astounding 29 turnovers this season, while recording just 19 takeaways. Here's a look at those stats through the Ferentz era with the team's record:
2000……20 TO…17 TA…3-9
2001……21 TO…21 TA…7-5
2002……16 TO…31 TA…11-2
2003……21 TO…23 TA…10-3
2004……19 TO…32 TA…10-2
2005……17 TO…16 TA…7-5
2006……29 TO…19 TA…6-6
Those numbers are telling, and you can't really pick an area of the team that excelled this season.
Coming into the campaign, Iowa's strengths seemed to be the quarterback, running game, offensive line and defensive line. Did any of those things materialize? Not really, and definitely not consistently.
The defensive line managed just one sack on Saturday in a season where it's struggled to reach the quarterback. They also allowed 192 yards rushing against Minnesota.
"We have to work on stopping the run," Mattison said. "Anybody watching film is saying, hey, we can just run the ball on these guys."
Journalists once again took turns asking the players and coaches to find an answer to this season's failures. They couldn't find anything outside of the usual, "We need to play better."
Ferentz was asked if his team played tough enough on Saturday because the Golden Gophers were flying around the field much like Wisconsin did a week earlier against Iowa. The coach said his team hasn't played tough enough throughout the season, which is equally disturbing as the coach saying his team didn't play with enough effort a few times this year.
That toughness was missing in Iowa's physical play, but also present in a lack of mental focus. That played into turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and missed tackles. Perhaps it was no more evident both physically and mentally as it was on lackluster special teams.
"That's what the program was built on, and for some reason we haven't made the plays," Paschal said.
The bowl system already welcomed the Hawkeyes into its club by virtue of its six wins. Iowa has limped into the mix losing three in a row and five of its last six.
"We're happy we're going to a bowl game," Merrick said. "At the same time, nobody wants to go to a bowl game like this."
Iowa has no choice. They get a month to figure out what they have been unable to uncover in the last three months.
"We have to get back and get ready or we're going to go to that bowl game and get killed." Paschal said.