Rick Brown: Outcoached Hawkeyes have major issues
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Think about the length of a football field, and add two yards.
That was Iowa's offensive production in the second half Saturday, 102 yards. Downright miserable. Downright bad enough to get you beat.
But this 20-17 loss to Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium was a total team effort, reaching beyond the conservative play calling in the second half that left many in the sellout crowd of 70,585 wondering where all the playmakers had gone.
"We got outplayed in the second half, and that's really where the game was decided," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a brief post-game news conference.
Ferentz wasn't dodging anyone. He answered every question thrown his way. All 10 of them. One for every 10 yards his team gained the second half. But you could tell he was clearly a coach searching for answers.
The defensive line, the bright spot in the season's first two unimpressive victories, rarely put any pressure on Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson. No sacks, and just two tackles for a loss.
So share the blame, Hawkeyes. You clearly got outplayed — and outcoached — the second half ... by a team that hadn't scored a point after halftime in its first two games.
"It's never fun to lose an intrastate game, obviously, but we've been here before," said Ferentz, now 7-9 against the Cyclones as Iowa's head coach.
The season's first two games, victories over Northern Iowa and Ball State, each came down to the final minute. There were plenty of red flags in both victories, but Iowa still won them. Band-Aids couldn't cover Saturday's wounds.
And a season that started with such bright promise — you know, no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State on the Big Ten schedule — now looks like one that could go either way. At least Iowa is competing in a conference that has plenty of black eyes so far this season. Welcome to the club, Hawkeyes.
Oh, and did you hear that Ball State lost Saturday ... to a team that went 1-11 last year, Indiana State?
Iowa's brightest moment at Kinnick Stadium, believe it or not, was the kicking game. Marshall Koehn made a 44-yard field goal to tie the score with just over 4 minutes left, and all four of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Punter Dillon Kidd did his job, giving the Cyclone offense a long field.
Iowa beat Iowa State last season at Jack Trice Stadium with a ground assault — a season-high 60 carries for 218 yards. On Saturday, against a Cyclone team that had allowed an average of 267 yards this season, Iowa managed 129 on 44 carries — an underwhelming 2.9 yards a carry.
The Hawkeyes' longest run from scrimmage was 13 yards. That was on a scramble by quarterback Jake Rudock.
Ferentz, who looked like a riverboat gambler when he went for it on a fourth-and-8 play from the Cyclone 16 late in the first half — Rudock improvised and found Jacob Hillyer for a 10-yard gain that led to Iowa's second touchdown — didn't display his inner Hayden Fry the second half.
"We did a decent job the first half," Ferentz said. "The second half, we just never got any traction.Part of that is self-inflicted, and part of that is just good play on their part, so credit goes to them."
Iowa had 17 carries for 59 yards the second half, with eight first downs. When Rudock did fade back, he couldn't find any open receivers and had to do his best Fran Tarkenton impression to stay alive. He got sacked four times — by a defense that had a total of three sacks over the first two games.
Everything changed after Rudock threw his first interception, on his 108th pass of the season, with Iowa still in front, 14-3, early in the third quarter. Iowa State safety T.J. Mutcherson did the honors, after Iowa tight end Jake Duzey fell down on the route. The Cyclones covered the necessary 32 yards in six plays for a touchdown. And we had a ballgame.
Instead of answering with a drive to flip momentum, the Hawkeye offense never found a rhythm. Remember all the talk about the improved receiving corps, which would help the Hawkeyes stretch the field?
Well, we're still looking for them.
Damond Powell never had a pass thrown to him. Neither did Derrick Willies. Tevaun Smith had two second-half catches. Hillyer had as many catches, one, as fullback John Kenny, who was converted from linebacker this week because Macon Plewa couldn't go.
Rhythm, flow, execution. All of it is missing. And that's how you score just three second-half points against a team that had been outscored this season after halftime 29-0. That's how you blow a 14-3 halftime lead in a game your fans expect you to win. That's how you lose.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.