MADISON, Wis. _ Kenny Iwebema turned 22 in February, but you wouldn't have known it watching him labor up the stairs from Iowa locker room here on Saturday night. It was a painful at which to look.
The Iowa defensive end spilled out of the door with his legs almost straight like those of a robot. He fell into his waiting mother's arms as she said, "My baby."
The Hawkeyes' defensive effort wasn't lost on Veronica Iwebema. The 82,630 fans at Camp Randall all witnessed it – at least the coherent ones.
But, it wasn't enough…again. Iowa's offense continued performing somewhere in neighborhood of anemic. Yeah, this is a team game, but one half clearly hasn't held up its end of the bargain.
That's the way this crazy, wacky world of sports operates. In baseball, if you hit the heck out of the ball but if your pitchers throw beach balls, you lose. A basketball team that shoots it well but can't guard Brian Finley probably will be defeated. And football teams that struggle to score, struggle to win, except the Chicago Bears, and Iowa's defense and special teams aren't in that conversation.
A reporter asked Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz late Saturday night if he could see any comparison between his current group and the 2004 squad that started 2-2 and finished 10-2. Both teams featured experienced defenses and young offenses.
"There is as parallel there," the coach said. "I hope the ending turns out half as good. We have a lot of work to do."
Hawkeye Nation publisher Jon Miller did a great job comparing the offenses from those seasons through four games. He posted it on our football message board.
The '04 team faced adversity in losing its top 4 running backs for most of the season. This year's roster has been depleted by injury and suspension, including the loss of its two leading wide receivers (Dominique Douglas and Andy Brodell) from a year ago and first-team tight end (Tony Moeaki).
Ferentz is right. The situations are comparable. However, I don't feel like this team is in a position to repeat its predecessors' success.
Jon will tell you that I appreciate statistics, but am more of an instinct person. I like to be at every press conference and game to pick up a sense of what the team is about on and off the field. That doesn't mean I'm using a Kreskin or Miss Cleo approach. I'm also a student of the game, albeit with plenty to learn.
One of the things that jumped out at me during Saturday night's post game was Ferentz poignantly saying his team didn't come here for a moral victory. His players repeated the refrain. Then, they went on to say things that made it seem like a moral victory.
"When we lose, it's always tough," Iowa center Rafael Eubanks said. "I just think as a team we did a lot of good things out there tonight. We progressed a lot. We fought hard, played hard the entire 60 minutes. We can't really hang our heads. There's not one thing we can point to and say that was the difference. We just played hard all 60 minutes."
Said running back Albert Young: "We didn't take advantage of a lot of opportunities. We had good field position. It was more of what we didn't do. No disrespect to them. We felt like it was our game."
"The bottom line is that we looked like a football team tonight," Ferentz said. "Our goal was not to play it close. We wanted to win the game. We grew as a team tonight, and we saw great leadership and attitude and that gives you a chance."
Iowa did conjure up a valiant effort against the seventh-ranked team in the country, a program whose 13-game winning streak is the best active run in the land. I definitely felt better leaving Camp Randall than I did Jack Trice a week ago.
But again, I just can't see this team repeating what the program did three years ago. Too many variables are working against it:
No. 1 - Part of the reason Iowa looked good against the Badgers is that the teams play similar styles. It's a grind-it-out, conservative approach. You'll probably see something similar at Penn State in two weeks.
No. 2 - This Iowa defense is very good, but it's not in the league of the '04 group, at least not yet.
No. 3 – Jake Christensen is not the playmaker on the level of Drew Tate circa ‘04. Don't get me wrong, Jake might end up being the better fit for this offense in the long run. But he's a system guy who works well when the parts around him work well.
Teams are going to continue to stack the box to stop Young and Damian Sims and make Christensen and his young receivers beat them. I don't feel like they're ready to do that yet.
No. 4 - As good as this defense has looked, I'm still very concerned about it being able to shackle the spread run by future opponents Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue. It's wearing down as was evidenced late in Saturday's game. And if it breaks a little, will the offense be able to pick up the slack?
No. 5 - The punting and kicking games aren't good enough for a team that's going to be in close games just about every week.
Lastly, the opponents have exposed Iowa's tendencies and weaknesses the last few seasons and the Hawkeyes have not countered that. They have two thirds of the season left to try it.
I see moderate success, but 10-2 and a January Bowl is a long shot.