Howe on the Hawkeyes

Can we buy that the Iowa team we saw at Minnesota get well enough in a month to compete with the defending National Champions. Senior Writer Rob Howe looks into the possibility after talking with the Hawkeyes on Thursday.

Kirk Ferentz was sticking to his story. His players also seemed well versed in the mantra.

The Hawkeyes met with the media for the first time since late November on Thursday before this weekend jetting to the San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

From what we were told…and told…and told…Iowa has gone back to the basics and attempted to get better each day. Perhaps you've heard this before.

Believe me, I'm not ripping the coach and his players. Clichés play a huge role in this business. And the way the Hawkeyes limp into this postseason, working on fundamentals and getting better is necessary.

To look on the faces of these guys after 34-24 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 18 was to see a place this program hasn't been since the early years of the Ferentz Era. They walked out of the Metrodome searching for answers.

The biggest question for me is can this team turn it around in a month?

"Time will tell," Ferentz said. "We just need to improve every day. I hate to sound simplistic, but that's really where we're at right now. Whether or not that's going to be good enough on the 30th, we'll find that out when we play, but at least we'll know if we improved. We need to look better than the last time we were out in public."

The Hawkeye player seem to believe a turnaround is possible.

"We just had a little run of just not playing well," Iowa quarterback Drew Tate said. "We didn't have a bye week to sit back and look at would we were doing fundamentally, scheme wise, stuff like that. You can say a lot of things, but we've had this whole month to practice well and we have."

That's all we have to go on. Are you buying it? Can the team we saw against Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota hang with the defending national champions in Texas?

We've heard throughout the season how these Hawkeyes were close, had great chemistry and were going to come together. We believed it because history told us they would right the ship in November.

It never happened. This team turned out to be the epitome of mediocrity.

That's what makes it so tough to buy into this notion that the ills of this group can be cleared up in a month. I badly want to believe this is a good football team, but I'm having a tough time finding the evidence:

Defendant - It did compete well with three Top 10 teams in Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. It did put up 500 yards of offense against Minnesota. It sustained injuries at every position on the field, including Tate and starting running back Albert Young.

Prosecution – It turned the ball over 29 times, a high in the Ferentz Era. It dropped passes at an alarming rate. It struggled on special teams. It lost five of its last six games.

If you're a glass half empty person, you see this game against Texas as a beat-down waiting to happen. The fumbling, bumbling Hawkeyes will show up and finish off a disappointing season with a big stinker.

Hey, it's not easy to argue against that line of thought. As you can see above, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea.

If you're a glass half full person, you say this is a good Iowa football team that didn't get any breaks this year expect on the injury report. You say Texas is going to sleep walk through this game because it planned on being in the BCS. You believe that Iowa plays to the level of its competition this season and revels in the role of heavy dog.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I believe the Hawkeyes will play well next week. I don't think they'll win, but they'll play well.

And as Ferentz said above, that can be good enough. Whatever caused them to veer off the track this season needs to be rectified in these practices to get things in a better place for next year. This program cannot survive with the inconsistent effort that was put forth this season.

A lot was being made of Ferentz's salary when the team nosedived this season, but this is the type of situation where this guy has thrived in the past. He and his staff reached this point of success by being good teachers.

Tate said this bowl preparation is different than any of the three previous ones in which he's gone though.

"The mentality, back to fundamentals, we're just doing things differently, and that's fine," he said. "Everyone on this team realizes this is to help us and to get better and that's exactly what it's doing."

Let's hope so. This is the last chance for this group to be the team everybody expected to see in 2006.

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