The truth of the matter is, once we peel back the emotion, and again, I include myself here, is this; things are not necessarily as cut and dried as they might appear.
Jake Christensen has thrown some balls that were high. There is no doubt about that, and he is also a sophomore in his first season where ‘he is the man'. But were it not for Jake keeping a level head and coming out and playing some inspired football in the second half, Iowa has not shot in the Iowa State game.
The offensive line was shaky on Saturday, but we need to remind ourselves that there were three players out there starting the third games of their careers, for the most part. The line includes three sophomores, one freshman and a junior.
Some folks might say, ‘well, Iowa shouldn't be in that position in the ninth year of the Kirk Ferentz era.' In a perfect world, they wouldn't be.
In a perfect world, Rob Bruggeman wouldn't have suffered a serious knee injury during spring drills, and there are some that would tell you he was arguably the best offensive lineman on the team at the time, or one of the two best. Dace Richardson has a lot of starting and game experience, but he has been hurt since having surgery early in fall camp, and is only just getting his legs back underneath him.
At worst, those two players are among the top seven linemen on the team, when healthy. And this isn't a knock against the kids that are there and healthy. They are young, and there will be days like what we saw on Saturday. In fact, there will be several days like that. It's just a part of football, and offensive lines can take a while to season and gel together.
After Iowa's season opening win against Northern Illinois, Kirk Ferentz said that the line played better than he thought it would, and made fewer mistakes than he thought it would. Week two against Syracuse saw the sledding get tougher for the young line, as the Orange stacked the box and brought a lot of blitzes.
Week three against Iowa State, the Cyclones disguised a lot of looks, brought some new ones and forced the young line into some mistakes. The film will provide a good teaching opportunity for the Iowa coaches.
Iowa's wide receiving corps is also much younger and inexperienced three games into the season than anyone expected it to be on August 17th. That was the day before Coach Ferentz was informed of the investigation into Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman.
Douglas had 49 receptions last year, and though he is not considered a game breaking receiver, he a few very important things last year; he got open, and he caught the football.
Iowa's receivers had a challenging time getting open on Saturday, and that is not always a guarantee to happen. We saw plenty of that last year.
On Saturday, Andy Brodell was the lone veteran receiver on the field. James Cleveland, a redshirt freshman, was making the first start of his career. He had a crucial drop on a third down play in the fourth quarter of the football game that Iowa would like to have back. But he is a young player.
Colin Sandeman saw a lot of reps, and he was playing in the third college football game of his career in his third week as a college student. He was in high school four months ago.
Trey Stross was out with a hamstring injury, but it's not like he has seen a ton of action in his career, as he is a sophomore.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos saw a lot of reps as well, which was just the second time in his career that he got on the field for the offense. He showed his youth at the end of the first half.
Kirk Ferentz was asked if DJK was trying to get out of bounds on the last play of the first half. His reply: "Well, yeah….no. I will backtrack. Clearly, he was trying to get in the endzone. But when you play a first year player, he is a redshirt freshmen, those kinds of things will happen. Our youth showed in certain areas today. Our play is representative of that, too. We were hoping to get the ball out of bounds and take a shot at it."
That wasn't throwing DJK under the bus; Kirk was giving a direct answer to a question.
And I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus, either. I am calling it as I see it; the core of this offense is inexperienced.
Here is a list of players that made either their first, second, third or fourth starts of their careers on Saturday:
Center Rafael Eubanks is also a sophomore.
Ferentz also said this after the game: "As the game went on, we played better. When you have some inexperienced players…I am not throwing alibis here now, but when you have that, it takes a while and you work through situations. It's easier when you have better field position."
Some folks are going to look at that and call it spin. It is what it is, and I see it as the obvious and what I just wrote about above.
A few more thought on Iowa's receiving corps…Andy Brodell, a high school running back, was probably the #2 receiver going into this season. Douglas was the #1 go to guy when you needed someone to get open and catch the ball last year. He did both of those things well. On Saturday, Iowa's #2, James Cleveland, was probably the #4 receiver on the list when camp started, with Trey Stross at #3. Anthony Bowman would have pushed for the #5 spot, as he had some experience. DJK and Sandeman would have probably been option 6, 7 or 8 back in early August, and they both received at least 30% of the reps during the Iowa State game.
So when you have such inexperience, and those young kids are playing in their first hostile stadium, and the line is struggling due to the complexity of a defense, and the receivers are struggling to create space, and a quarterback isn't at the apex of his game (which the previous aspects certainly play a part in), you see a team struggle.
In 2004, the Iowa offense gained 100 yards in a road game at Arizona State. Iowa had a great, great defense that year, anchored by Matt Roth, Jonathon Babineaux, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Jared Clauss and Sean Considine. Five of those six players are on NFL rosters right now, and Clauss made it a full year with Tennessee right out of college. They gave up over 500 yards of offense that night.
They also found themselves in compromising positions, with linebackers on wide receivers; does the name Derek Hagen ring a bell?
I still don't understand why Iowa has linebackers guarding receivers, but that is a topic for another column that will probably come later this week.
My point in bringing up the 2004 example is to illustrate that every team has a game like what we just witnessed. Drew Tate was a sophomore quarterback that year, and he went 8 of 19 for 44 yards in that game. Iowa gained just six first downs. Iowa ran a paltry 46 plays.
Remember how bad Syracuse's offense looked two weeks ago in Iowa City? Iowa's offense looked worse than that against ASU in 2004.
The 2004 Iowa team won a Big Ten Championship, and it played in a January Bowl game.
I am not going to sit here and tell you that this year's team is headed for a Big Ten title. That ASU team in 2004 was a better football team than the one Iowa just lost to. That's yet another column for later this week.
I am going to tell you that a lot of people are throwing the baby out with the bathwater far too soon on this football season.
The 2004 team came back the next week and lost to a heavily favored and nationally ranked Michigan team on the road, and their record was 2-2 after four games.
The 2007 Iowa team is set to travel to a heavily favored and nationally ranked Wisconsin team this week, a game that will be THE featured game in all of college football, as it will be broadcast on ABC television, with Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit handling the broadcast duties. ESPN's College Gameday will be originating its broadcast from Madison, as well.
The odds suggest that Iowa's record will be evened at 2-2 after this week, just like it was in 2004.
But the 2004 team came home after that embarrassing ASU loss and they flushed it out of their system. Chris Doyle had an actual toilet at practice that week, as an object lesson.
Iowa went to Michigan, and the score was 16-10 bad guys with 2:36 to play in the third quarter, and Iowa with the ball on its own 20. Two plays later, Iowa fumbled the ball and Michigan then pulled away to win 30-17. Iowa had five turnovers on that day, but it held Michigan to 329 yards of offense. It regained some of its swagger, and it never lost again that season.
Season is a key word here; that team didn't give up after an embarrassing loss, and I don't expect this year's team to give up after this weekend's loss at Iowa State.
That 2004 team came back out that next week and showed that it had fight.
I expect the same thing from this year's Iowa team this weekend in Madison.