Hawkeye Stumbling as Big Ten Play Arrives
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz shook up his staff in the offseason because he believed back-to-back 4-4 finishes in the Big Ten simply weren't good enough.
Right now, the Hawkeyes don't look like they can finish anywhere near .500 in the league.
Iowa's slow descent into mediocrity began just a few short weeks after Ferentz signed a 10-year contract extension ahead of the 2010 opener. It sped up on Saturday with a 32-31 loss to Central Michigan as the Chippewas scored nine points in the last 45 seconds.
The Hawkeyes (2-2) on Saturday host Minnesota, which is off to a surprising 4-0 start.
Iowa doesn't just need the Floyd of Rosedale trophy back from the Gophers. The Hawkeyes need to reclaim the bronze pig and their confidence after one of the most stunning collapses in Ferentz's 14-year tenure.
"You have to get on your feet. Somehow, some way, you have to learn from what happened," Ferentz said. "We had a lot to discuss on Sunday. But once that's over, you have to move on."
The Chippewas scored a touchdown, missed a two-point conversion, recovered an onside kick and hit a 47-yard game-winning field goal in under a minute. But the Hawkeyes put themselves in position to be stunned with a litany of mistakes that good teams simply don't make.
Iowa committed at least four personal fouls — including a critical call on defensive lineman Joe Gaglione that put Central Michigan in line for the winning kick. The Hawkeyes also looked "frozen" on two onside kicks by the Chippewas, at least according to Ferentz, and they got their signals crossed on whether to go for a first down or kick the go-ahead field goal with just over eight minutes left.
Mike Meyer ultimately connected on the kick, a beautiful 46-yarder into a stiff wind that reaffirmed his status as one of the Big Ten's best special teams players. But that it came after such a stretch of confusion — at home, no less — speaks to how disjointed Iowa has looked this season.
Iowa made changes at nearly coaching spot under Ferentz, including both coordinators. But Ferentz staunchly defended his staff in the wake of last week's performance.
"I'm happy with our staff. But I'm not happy we're 2-2. Nobody is," Ferentz said.
Even if the Hawkeyes play cleaner football this weekend and beyond, they might still have trouble winning four or more games in the Big Ten after close wins against Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg broke through with his first touchdown pass of the season against Central Michigan. But it remains the only one for the Hawkeyes' passing game this season, which is 94th nationally in yards per game and is one of just eight teams across the country with one or less TD.
Though Vandenberg hasn't played nearly as well as he did a year ago, Ferentz is standing behind his senior quarterback.
"I'm glad he's our quarterback. I'm glad he's our quarterback for the next eight games. He's a heck of a player and I think he's a heck of a young man," Ferentz said.
The good news for Iowa is that it has seemed to have found a No. 1 back it can lean on in converted fullback Mark Weisman, a walk-on sophomore who is playing behind a line that has been extremely effective in run blocking over the past two weeks. He has rushed for 330 yards and six of Iowa's eight total TDs in two starts.
Weisman is listed as the starter yet again. Sophomore Damon Bullock is questionable after suffering a head injury two weeks ago.
Iowa's defense put forth its first bad performance last week, allowing 23 points in the first half and then those unforgettable nine in the final minute. The Hawkeyes are hoping last weekend was more of an aberration than a trend for a defense that was more than good enough in the first three games.
But this is a critical week for the Hawkeyes. A win would give them a major boost heading into next week's bye. A loss would put Iowa below .500 — with three losses in four home games — and with the meat of their Big Ten schedule left to play.
"Any time coming off a loss, everybody's on high alert," Vandenberg said. "That's feeling's bad — especially letting one slip away (that was) so close in the final seconds makes it even worse. But the bottom line is, we didn't make enough plays and Big Ten play, it's only going to get tougher from here."
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