Final Look: Iowa-Pitt Thoughts and Notes

Iowa lost a close game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, and there were several things that added up to a day full of inconsistency. Jon Miller takes a look beyond the score into the nuts and bolts of what was a lost opportunity at Pittsburgh

Iowa's 21-20 loss on Saturday didn't sit well with any fan of the black and gold. After spending several hours on the HawkeyeNation.com message boards over the weekend and again on Monday, the pain was fairly wide spread. There were only a few ‘voices of reason' to be found.

I am not going to try and tell you that all is well, but I am not comfortable with the ‘sky is falling' cries right now either.

Here is one final look back at last weekend's game at Pitt….

Many of the factors that went into Iowa losing this game fall under the category of coach's decision or in the correctable mistakes department.

Some of those factors might also be ‘just a bad game' issues.

Ryan Donahue had an inconsistent day punting the football, in addition to getting one blocked. Donahue has had inconsistent days before, and he is just a sophomore, but you hope those inconsistent days are numbered going forward. In short, he picked a bad day to have a couple of shanks.

Paki O'Meara was trying to make a play on 3rd and 8 midway through the fourth quarter at midfield when he caught a pass from Jake Christensen and tried to bounce outside to pick up more yards. The one problem there is had he just gone upfield, he would have at least picked up the two extra yards he needed for a first down, which would have given Iowa a first and ten at the Pitt 45 with roughly seven minutes to play in the game. That would have put Iowa about 15 yards away from a 47 yard field goal attempt to take the lead.

There are no guarantees that Iowa would have made that field goal, and there are no guarantees Iowa would have gained those 15 yards. But, they could have gotten more yards to give for a better field goal attempt or they could have scored a touchdown. We'll never know, because Iowa didn't convert on 3rd and 8. It's tough to come down too hard on a kid that is a walk on who hasn't been in big spots like that before. He was being aggressive, and you cannot say that this one play cost Iowa a win, because the Hawks were trailing at the time and the offense had hardly been a well oiled machine up to that point.

Daniel Murray missed a 35 yard field goal in the first half, a miss that turned out to be costly. Any missed field goal makes a coach cringe, because they can come back to bite you. At this point in time and likely for the rest of this season, Iowa is a team that can ill afford to miss out on scoring opportunities like that. You don't need to be a math major to add three more points onto Iowa's score and come up with a number that is more favorable to Iowa. Learfield sideline reporter Rob Brooks said that Murray's kicking in that spot was due to a predetermined rotation between he and Trent Mossbrucker, who had already converted on a field goal earlier in the game. Basically, Murray's number came up in the second quarter.

Perhaps Iowa fans became so spoiled with the foot of Nate Kaeding through the years that we just expect every kick to go through the wickets. Players like Kaeding are not commonplace, so our expectations should be lowered a bit. But it still hurts to lose by one when you miss a 35-yard field goal. Will Iowa settle on Mossbrucker in the kicking game? We will see.

Each of those areas is ‘correctable', if you will. O'Meara will know to turn upfield next time and take the extra two yards to get a first down over the promise of an extra 10 or so. Donahue has been a very good performer for Iowa and he is just a sophomore. Mossbrucker is five of six on field goals this year, including 2-2 on Saturday.

These types of ‘issues' are much better to deal with than an offensive line that is young and inexperienced or a receiving corps that is starting all freshmen, things Iowa had to deal with last year. Those kinds of issues are not usually correctable in season.

Iowa doesn't have that problem this year, as the line is playing much better than last year and Iowa has more experience at the wide receiver position, even though getting consistent separation appears to be a challenge for Iowa this year, as has been the case in recent seasons. But Tony Moeaki appears to be close to 100 percent, which is a great thing for this offense. The Hawks used both Moeaki and Myers in the slot on a few occasions on Saturday, something I hope to see more of this year.

But one of the biggest problems that has hampered this team over its last 16 games has been inconsistency on third downs. And fair or not, that is a statistic that typically points at the play of the quarterback.

Iowa completed just 4 of 17 third down attempts on Saturday, a very poor number. Rick Stanzi was 1 of 4, Jake Christensen was 3 of 13. Last year, Iowa completed just 32% of its third down conversions on the season, which is unacceptable. This year's pace is 34% through four games, with the ‘easier' games in the books and eight straight white knuckler's dead ahead. The competition level will increase over the next two months, and third down conversions will be harder to come by than they have been

On Saturday, Iowa's average third down distance was 6.8 yards. This team is not going to be successful on 3rd and 7. It cannot have negative yardage plays on first down, and there was some of that on Saturday. Iowa's four conversions came on distances of 1, 3, 3 and 5 yards. That shouldn't be surprising, because teams are more effective with those manageable distances. Seven of Iowa's third down attempts came on distances of 8 yards or more. That just cannot happen.

Negative plays and too many incomplete passes will add up, and they did on Saturday. Christensen was too inconsistent with his throws. I've gone down that road this past weekend..

Ferentz has named Rick Stanzi as the starter for the Northwestern game, per Monday's depth chart, so it appears a move has been made.

The focus in Hawkeye Nation is on the quarterback situation. Each of us is looking forward to Kirk Ferentz's Tuesday press conference to try and find out more answers with regards to Saturday's game and decision making.

Here is a hint that might help you be more productive at the office on Tuesday morning in advance of the 12:30 press conference: don't hold your breath.

I doubt there are going to be many answers on that front, because it's just not how Kirk Ferentz operates. When he uses terms like ‘gut feel', that might as well be code for ‘I am not going to openly criticize individual players on this team,' which is fine. I don't want him to do that.

The real answers will come with how we see that situation handled on Saturday against Northwestern and the rest of the season.

Ultimately, each of the players is giving his best out there. Sometimes that doesn't win a football game…the rest falls into the category of ‘Coaching Decision'.


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