Howe: Step Back from the Ledge Iowa Fan

I'm not one for preaching, but I was a little shocked at the sky-is-falling attitude some Iowa fans showed after a hard-fought, 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday. I'm not saying Hawkeye fans shouldn't be upset. It sucks to lose. But let's not go overboard here folks.

PITTSBURGH - I understand your upset, Hawkeye fan. You're mad at the coaches and you want the starting quarterback to get lost on his way back from Western Pennsylvania. You're fed up. Point taken.

Guess what? Your team is 3-1 heading into an average, at best, Big Ten slate. Yes. You should be upset after a loss, but can we keep things in perspective, here, y'all?

The Hawkeyes lost 21-20 in its first road game of the season on Saturday. They were coming off their rivalry game while their opponent, Pittsburgh, sat back with two weeks to prepare.

Could Iowa have won this game? Oh, yes. Should Iowa have won this game? I didn't think they would, so my answer is no. I was impressed that down 14-3 on the road, the Hawkeyes fought back in a foreign stadium and gave themselves a chance to win in the closing minutes. Last year, the got down on the road at Penn State and Purdue and got creamed.

I also realize that much of the anger and venom from a segment of the fan base is directed at quarterback Jake Christensen and coaches Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe for playing him the entire second half. I also understand that. I wouldn't mind talking about Ricky Stanzi getting some reps after the intermission.

That said, I'm not willing to step out and say that Stanzi would have won this for the visitors. He was rattled against ISU last week and unsettled again here on Saturday. And I know he was 7 of 10, but I just don't have a lot of faith in either signal caller right now. Shonn Greene has been the reason Iowa scores points. And he did what he could on a relatively warm day.

Iowa just doesn't have a game-changing quarterback right now. You know what? They might also not have a clutch kicker. I'm not real confident that the Daniel Murray or Trent Mossbrucker would have knocked through the game-winner had the offense put either one in position to do so.

This just in. This team has holes. It's not USC.

For years, I mean years, people complained about Iowa being too stubborn to run nickel and dime packages on defense. The Hawkeyes blew it last season at Iowa State because there was a linebacker on a wide receiver.

Guess what? Two of Pitt's three touchdowns on Saturday were scored against the dime. Pitt identified the defense and ran the quarterback up the middle for scores on perceived passing downs. The Panthers' third score came courtesy of LeSean McCoy, who used his exceptional speed to get to the corner and outrun slower defenders.

Seems to me that Pittsburgh had this thing scouted pretty well. It also converted all three of its fourth-down opportunities and did a nice job in the Iowa tight ends. It must have been nice to have 14 days to prepare and regroup after a shaky start to the season.

On the other hand, the Hawkeyes missed opportunities. In a one-point game, Iowa allowed a punt to be blocked, got flagged for a late hit out of bounds, missed a 35-yard field goal, was average on special teams, at best, missed tackles and allowed six sacks.

Some folks fell into the trap of a false sense of security in Iowa winning its first three games. It needed late-game heroics to beat ISU at home, and has completed its games against teams the caliber of Maine and Florida International. You should have expected tough, knock-down, drag-out contests against the rest of the schedule.

Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I came into this week skeptical of Iowa's offense. I felt that no matter who the quarterback was under center late in Saturday's game, Iowa would be hard pressed to put together a winning drive. And if it did, the field goal kickers had missed three of their last six attempts.

So, if you have a suspect place-kicking game and a pair of quarterbacks that are unlikely to take you on a winning drive, you have worries. You can't make the mistakes Iowa made on Saturday and expect to win on the road.

I picked Iowa to go 7-5 this season. I believed that would be a step forward. I've stopped buying into the soft-schedule theory because the Hawkeyes would be much better off with Michigan and Ohio State this season than they would with Penn State and Wisconsin. I never expected this team to win nine or 10 games because of how far they had to come after last season.

Remember, this is still a developmental program, folks. The quarterbacks still are developing (Yes, Jake, too, his offense was brutal last season), the offensive line is still developing, the receivers still are developing and the kickers are still developing.

With all due credit to former Hawkeye Dennis Green, Iowa is who I thought it was - a team that needs to improve every week all over the field. It's not just the quarterback or the coaches. It's the whole team.

I realize we have to point fingers after a loss. Somebody must be blamed. That's OK. Blow off steam, but step away from the ledge. Two thirds of the season remains.


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