IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sixty hours later, Iowa’s defensive players were still dealing with the physical and emotional toll of Saturday’s last-second loss.
The Hawkeyes are altering their practice schedule after Penn State ran 99 plays from scrimmage on a steamy evening at Kinnick Stadium, pulling out a 21-19 victory on the final play. The goal is to keep the athletes fresh for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Michigan State that will be televised nationally by Fox.
Erasing the memory of the No. 4 Nittany Lions’ final drive is a trickier process. Penn State moved 80 yards in 96 seconds, converting two fourth downs along the way.
“You fall asleep remembering those plays,” Hawkeye middle linebacker Josey Jewell said Tuesday.
Safety Amani Hooker admitted he’s watched Penn State’s winning touchdown — a pass that sailed a couple inches over his hands — 10 times since it happened.
“I wish I could get it back, but you can’t do it,” Hooker said. “Have to move on.”
Iowa safety Amani Hooker acknowledges he's watched the final play of Penn State game 10 times. Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said his staff has been taking steps to ease the workload on the weary Hawkeyes (3-1) this week as they prepare for another physical matchup with the Spartans (2-1).
“The game took a lot out of everybody,” Ferentz said. “We've been sensitive to our players. Hopefully, we'll do our best to alter practice where they can be ready to go 100 percent on Saturday, and give us a chance to go up there and play at our absolute best, and that's exactly what it will take to come out victorious.”
That doesn’t mean the Iowa defense is preparing for a relaxing week. Defensive end Parker Hesse said the mindset needs to remain the same.
“As a defense, we want to set the tone. We want to set the pace in practice. I don’t think that changes,” Hesse said. “I think going in to this week, defensively, our attitude is tempo. Our attitude is juice.”
The Penn State loss was painfully similar to Iowa’s last meeting with Michigan State, in the 2015 Big Ten championship game. The Spartans used a 22-play drive to pull out that 16-13 victory in the waning seconds as well. The difference this time: Iowa needs to turn right around and play again the next week.
“That thing is in a closet somewhere. We'll go back and revisit it somewhere in another season,” Ferentz said of Saturday’s game tape.
“You've got to try to flip the page and move on to your opponent. If you can't handle that emotionally, you probably should get out of the sport.”
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So that’s what Iowa’s players are trying to do this week: Focus on a tough road trip instead of ruminating on the “what-ifs” that led to the Hawkeyes’ first loss this season.
“We have to move on, because we’ve still got eight more games left, and holding on to that game will only make you play worse,” Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson said.
Seniors such as linebacker Ben Niemann said they’ve learned how to prevent a loss from lingering into the next week. The Michigan State game from two years ago provides a textbook example of what can happen if you don’t. The Hawkeyes had four weeks to stew over that loss, and then were flattened by Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Niemann said he’s been reminding his younger teammates that their attention had better be on the Spartans.
“We played well (against Penn State). We gave up too many yards (579). But we played physical and flew to the football and played together. But at the end of the day, it’s a loss. There’s no moral victories. So it hurts,” Niemann said. “We’re past that now.”
Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann says Michigan State is a mirror image of Hawkeyes. Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
Hesse said there’s an impulse to look back, but that’s what your opponent wants you to do.
“Anytime you lose on the last play of a game, it is a matter of fact you could have won the game, maybe should have won the game. So that always is hard to swallow,” Hesse said. “But in the game of football, you’ve got to move on, no matter how tough it is.
“Michigan State doesn’t care how we feel about it right now. They’re lining up, they’re practicing to beat us as bad as they can. So we’re going to have to come in swinging.”