Howe: Iowa Players Focused on Task at Hand

It would be understandable of Iowa players were dazed and confused. The Hawkeyes have lost three games in a row and seven consecutive in conference play. After a 38-20 homecoming loss to Indiana on Saturday, the nightmare of last season's collapse couldn't be far from their minds. columnist attempted to find the pulse of the players on Tuesday.

Sunday was a day to get out of the house. The HN message boards were melting down after Iowa's 38-20 homecoming loss to Indiana a day earlier. I definitely didn't want to stay inside and watch my New York Mets complete their implosion.

So, my wife and I took our family down the ped mall so the kids could play and I could clear my head. I'm sure plenty of you have cleared your heads there during your time in Iowa City.

I sat on the bench with my daughter, who can put a smile on anybody's face, and noticed a stocky guy sitting up the way from us. Hawkeye center Rafael Eubanks was visiting with his family, clearing his head. I left him alone. He needed the time as did I.

He looked every bit like a guy consumed in the 24-hour rule, an approach taken by Iowa players and coaches, where they use the following day after a game to reflect on it, win or lose.

At Tuesday's press conference, I spoke with a much more up-beat Eubanks. The 24 hours after the loss against the Hoosiers proved tough to get through as have been eight of the last 11 games which ended in defeat.

"It's frustrating," Eubanks said. "A lot of us aren't used to losing this much. It's hard to get used to. But it's that drive to want to win, to know what that feeling is like, that really keeps us going in times like this where you have to keep working."

That's what the Iowa players and coaches have to hang their hats on. They get to practice and work towards getting better. Fans and media can analyze why this team has lost seven conference games in a row with a trip to Penn State on the schedule this week.

It was encouraging to see Eubanks looking excited to be getting back to practice on Tuesday compared to the way his blank eyes stared into space on the ped mall a few days earlier.

Coach Kirk Ferentz was asked after the Indiana game about the seven-game, Big-Ten skid. He said he was only worried about the first two setbacks this year. This was a different squad and he couldn't help last year's team.

I wondered if the team is still hung over from last year or if the doubt created by the poor finish to the 2006 regular season was creeping back in during their current three-game slide.

"You get that feeling, especially from outsiders," Eubanks said. "That's the biggest thing going on right now. (You hear) that this team is in a state of turmoil and stuff like that. People can say what they want. I know what I feel, and I know how I feel about this team.

"We're not going to let that happen again. Last year wasn't a good thing, but we were able to learn a lot from that. I don't think it's something we're going to let happen. The wins and losses this year are completely different from what happened last year."

Eubanks, Albert Young and Mitch King all said on Tuesday that there were deeper problems on last year's team. Eubanks referred to it as a different state of mind.

"It was more of the attitude of the team, something was lacking last year throughout the team," he said. "We have that this year. We have what it takes to get all of the pieces together. It's just finding out way. We do have some of the answers. It's just getting that stuff executed."

Ferentz talked about the cyclical nature of the Big Ten in the last decade plus. Outside of Michigan and Ohio State, the other programs have hit peaks and valleys. Pick a school and it's happened.

Ideally, a team is looking to get out of the valley as quickly as possible. Wisconsin is managing to do that, and it looks like Purdue might be doing the same thing. To me, it has a lot to do with the mental make-up of a team and relocating the edge.

In '06, talked surfaced of riffs between players and coaches. The losing seemed to become an epidemic without a cure.

"This team is different," Young said. "Even though we lost, practice has still been intense. It's a strong senior class. No matter what, we're not going to get down at all, period, not matter what the situation is."

It's incumbent upon seniors like Young and experienced players like Eubanks and King to keep the less experienced players from drifting into the abyss.

"I trust the guys that are around me and we have the right mentality, but we have to prove it," King said. "You say that every week, and it kind of gets redundant, but it's true. You've got to pull together and be your brother's keeper. You just have to keep his head up.

"It is a tough road. You hear a bunch of fans and a bunch of people always talking down about it. It gets you down. But you have to know you're playing for (the guy next to you) and not the fans."

We have heard this all before. We heard from Drew Tate how great the chemistry was last season. Ferentz has said this year that it's a great group of guys.

It's all pretty simple. Good teams enjoy good chemistry, for the most part. Bad teams most often lack intangibles such as that.

It's encouraging that there seems to be some fight left in these guys. Is that enough? We'll find out over the next seven weeks.

"We're still going to work this season," Eubanks said. "It's not just a working season of trying to build back. We want to win. We're not going to sit back and say we'll forget about this season and work towards the next one. We want to win and we want to work to get it done."

It's not very fun in the valley.

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