IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When it was time to leave Kinnick Stadium, they were quick and efficient and silent.
The Hawkeyes started for the tunnel with about 48 seconds left. It was over after quarterback James Vandenberg's interception with 2:11 left, but it has been over for six weeks.
It was time to turn in the gear. Black equipment bag after black equipment with players' numbers on the sides were carried from the Iowa lockerroom and dumped into the back of a trailer attached to a John Deere Gator.
The first few made distinct clangs that rang through the hall in Kinnick's south end zone. After more and more were thrown in, there was no sound.
You can ride that symbol for Friday's 13-7 defeat at the hands of No. 17 Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) before 69,805 fans, which snapped Iowa's 30-game streak of sellouts. You can ride that symbol for the season, with Iowa (4-8, 2-6) taking a six-game losing streak into the 2013, which begins Aug. 31 at Kinnick against Northern Illinois, ranked No. 24 in the country and 10-1 with its only loss coming to Iowa.
This is Iowa's worst record since 2000 (3-9), worst Big Ten record since 2006 (2-6) and first finish out of bowl eligibility since 2000 (3-9).
"Our expectations are certainly to go to bowls every year, but realize they're never automatic," Ferentz said. "This year is certainly evidence of that. That's behind us now as of about a half hour ago. Now we go back to work and see what we can do about moving forward in a positive way."
Vandenberg's first pass at Kinnick in 2009 against Northwestern was an interception. His last pass, on first-and-10 from Iowa's 39 with 2:11 left in the game and Iowa needing a TD to tie it, was plucked out of the air by Nebraska linebacker Alonzo Whaley, who said the play looked pretty familiar.
"Well, they ran the same exact play before that so we had a zero pressure going and I knew the ball would come out pretty fast," Wahley said. "I was just thinking be aggressive so, I jumped the route the first time but didn't come up with the results. They ran the same exact route and I played it the same exact way and found it, an early Christmas present I should say."
A Christmas barb from the Huskers, the Legends Division champions who'll face Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game next weekend. Ouch.
Iowa's defense did enough to win. In a game stifled by a steady 26 mph out of the northwest, the Hawkeyes held Nebraska to a season low for points (13), 63 yards passing (fewest since 2009) and 3.8 yards on 53 carries (second lowest this season).
"There just wasn't enough offense," said running back Mark Weisman, who had 91 yards on 29 carries. "The defense played great, it was unfortunate on offense that we couldn't stay consistent for the whole year. That's pretty much how it's been."
No, not "pretty much how it's been." That is exactly how it's been.
The Hawkeyes averaged 3.2 yards on 63 plays, a season low and the fifth time Iowa's offense has been held to less than 4 yards a play. Vandenberg completed 11 of 24 for 92 yards, his fewest completions as a starter since 2009 and the fewest passing yards for Iowa since 53 against Michigan State in 2007.
Iowa failed to score after two Nebraska fumbles. On a third-and-10 from Nebraska's 19 with 15 seconds left before halftime, Iowa was hit with an illegal substitution penalty. Iowa tried a 42-yard field goal into the wind that sailed wide right. Then on fourth-and-3 from Iowa's 49 with just less than seven minutes in the fourth, Ferentz sent in punter John Weinke, who got the ball into the wind and into the end zone.
"I don't know exactly what happened," Vandenberg said of the substitution penalty. "I didn't know what personnel group was in there. I knew what the play was, but didn't know the personnel, even in the huddle I didn't catch it. That's on me, that can't happen."
The wind marred this game, but it wasn't this windy every game all season for the Hawkeyes. And thus, Ferentz took questions in the postgame on the immediate future of first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
"Up until about eight minutes ago I heard nothing about that, then someone said there was something out there that was floating around in cyberspace or something like that," Ferentz said when asked if Davis gave him every intention that he'll be back next season. "That's the first I've heard of that."
Davis declined comment in the din of the Gators and gear, saying he would talk next week.
Asked about if he was comfortable his staff going into the future, Ferentz said, "Yeah, I'm comfortable with everything right now. With that being said, I need to take some time and look at everything, starting with my performance, going right down to the bottom.
"We'll do that like we do every year. We have good coaches, good people. There were a lot of things that went into being 4-8 this year. That's the objective now, in the weeks ahead, is to figure out what could we've done better, what do we need to change, going from there."
The day ended with Ferentz sorting through low points of his 14-year tenure. He believes Iowa bottomed out in the second half of the '06 season, also a 2-6 finish in the Big Ten and losing streak at the end.
"I've said that before and I'll stick with that," he said. "Maybe I'll feel differently at the end of this week, but currently that's how I feel."
So, there's a chance this is the bottom. And there's a chance the bottom has yet to be found.