It's hard as a Hawkeye fan not to get excited about Iowa's 46-3 thumping of Maine Saturday in the season opener. After all, the last memory in Kinnick was a nine-point loss to Western Michigan at the end of last season with a bowl game on the line.
Iowa did what it needed to do against the Black Bears. It dictated the action and out-muscled a lower level opponent (I-AA, FB-something or other).
The thing to keep in mind is that we don't know how big the step forward was against Maine from the debacle against Western Michigan. Iowa started 2-0 last season after crushing Syracuse 35-0 following a 16-3 win against Northern Illinois in Chicago.
"As soon as I came off the field (Saturday), I thought to myself we played pretty well against Syracuse last year, same time of the year, early in the season and things didn't end up the way we wanted last year," Hawkeye Linebacker A.J. Edds said. "We have to keep this in perspective and flush it, good, bad or indifferent. We have to get ready to play next game."
And that's really the lesson here for all of us. It's one game. Let's have perspective. Iowa began 2-0 last season only to see its six-year postseason streak come to an end. In 2004, the Hawkeyes fell to 2-2 after an embarrassing loss at Arizona State and another setback at Michigan. That campaign ended with Drew Tate to Warren Holloway.
In the long run, it's probably a pipe dream for the bulk of the fan base to keep things in perspective. That's OK. As long as the players proceed by getting better each week like the Kirk Ferentz coached teams did earlier in the decade.
We simply don't know the quality of Maine, much like we didn't know what we got from Northern and Syracuse last year at the time. Saturday's game is more about the Iowa team moving forward with focus.
Some veteran Hawkeyes said during the offseason that there was a sense of entitlement with some of the younger players in the program; that there was a disconnect between some of the upper and lower classmen. That blew up when early success turned to failure in '07.
"You can talk about (keeping things in perspective), but that will be our task for this week," Edds said. "We need to look at the film, see what needs to be corrected and be able to do it. That's really leadership and older guys talking to younger guys. It's easy for young guys to kind of get complacent and say, "Hey, I made one or two good plays. I've got this figured out." You never have anything figured out. As soon as you get comfortable on the football field, bad things tend to happen. It's up to the older guys to keep everybody level headed."
Some good signs appeared from the younger guys that played on Saturday, sprouting hope that maybe this Iowa program is headed in the right direction. True freshmen Jewel Hampton ran with a purpose and classmate David Cato busted his backside on special teams.
Hampton and Cato were lightly recruited. Sounds familiar?
"To be able to lead guys, you have to have guys willing to follow," Edds said. "We have guys willing to lead and we have guys willing to be led. You have to have both pieces of the puzzle to be successful. That's something we have. We'll be put to the task next week and we'll see."
Iowa fans should feel good about a few areas that obviously looked improved from last year to this year, while still keeping in perspective that Maine was 4-7 in '07 and was severely outmanned size wise, especially on the lines.
While Iowa's offense did put up 35 points against Syracuse, it just looked better on Saturday than in that game. Shonn Greene returned from a one-year hiatus with 109 yards on 22 carries and quarterbacks Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi were given time to throw. The offensive line, which struggled a year ago, played a big role in both of those things.
The thing that stood out the most on Saturday was Iowa sustaining drives and looking to have a rhythm on offense. That was rare in '07.
"We scored when we were supposed to and we drove the ball when we had to," Christensen said. "We kept the (Iowa's) defense off the field. We put ourselves in position to win and that's what we need to do all year."
Maine ran 58 offensive plays on a warm August afternoon, while the Hawkeyes got off 73. Iowa punted once and the Black Bears booted it seven times.
"It definitely felt like it was a cleaner game out there (than against Northern Illinois last season)," Iowa Receiver Andy Brodell said. "We executed better for the most part. But it's was a first game and typically there are a lot of things to clean up. We have a lot of work to do."
Iowa did allow Black Bear tailback Jhamal Fluellen 104 yards on 21 carries and the visitors did move the ball in the first half courtesy of some poor Hawkeye tackling.
The home team also struggled to punch the ball into the end zone in the opening half, settling for field goals. The good news was that those went through the uprights, far from a given last fall.
As Brodell said, bumps are to be expected in the first game. The key is to follow the old football axiom of making the most improvement between Week 1 and 2.
"It was big," Edds said of Iowa's play on Saturday. "We came out and finished pretty poorly last year here at Kinnick, a game where we had a lot on the line. We came out and for whatever reason didn't perform well.
"It would have been easy for the fans to stay home. It's been a tough season with the floods and the tornadoes. For the fans to show up the way that they did, for us to come out and play the way that we did, it was good for confidence as much as anything. It's been a long offseason. It's good to get a little reward out of the time that we put in up to this point."
And really, that's another huge component this program needed to obtain during these early games. Last year's struggles and off-field failures dented the collective spirit and raised questions.
"We knew that we have everything we need in the (locker) room to win," Edds said. "It's a matter of us being able to do it. The coaches put us in position to do it. After that, it's on us to make plays. Coaches can't make a play. They can get you in a position to make a play."
For the most part, the plays were made on Saturday. But some weren't and that should be enough to keep these guys motivated. That's what kept the teams in 2002-04 pushing forward. That didn't happen last year and it resulted in a failure to meet goals.
"We never think something like that is going to happen," Christensen said. "We have a good feeling about this team. We're pretty close and we played well today. The good news is that we could have played better and we still won by 43 points."
Let's hope, for Iowa's sake, that nobody's satisfied.