Brown: Iowa needs soul-searching heading into stretch run

Rick Brown
Minnesota dominated Iowa at  the line of scrimmage

MINNEAPOLIS -- You win as a team. But you also improve individually. And it's time for Iowa's football team to stand in front of the mirror and do some soul-searching.

Offense, defense, special teams, everyone.

"I could coach a little better, too," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after a 51-14 loss to Minnesota on Saturday.

Iowa stands 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday's 11 a.m. game at Illinois. Three regular-season contests remain. Will this season follow the path of 2013, or 2012?

In 2012, Iowa lost its final six games to finish 4-8. In 2013, the Hawkeyes won their last three regular-season games to finish 8-4.

Iowa and Illinois meet for the first time since 2008, when the Illini snapped a five-game losing streak in the series with a 27-24 victory in Champaign.

A victory at Illinois looked like a sure thing a few weeks ago. But the Illini (4-5,1-4 Big Ten) are coming off a win over Minnesota. And their No. 1 quarterback, Wes Lunt, is expected to play for the first time since breaking his leg against Purdue on Oct. 4. Lunt has passed for 1,569 yards and 13 touchdowns.

If Illinois comes out of a bye week the way Minnesota did, watch out. This will be the fourth straight game for the Hawkeyes against a team coming off a bye week. Iowa played poorly in two of them, with losses at Maryland and Minnesota. Iowa won the other, a 48-7 romp over Northwestern when both teams were coming off open dates.

Saturday's loss, as humbling as it was, should be easy to flush. There were no what-if, game-changing plays. Just 3 hours and 19 minutes of one-sided football.

"You can't let one game beat you twice," running back Mark Weisman said.

Iowa won in Minneapolis a year ago, 23-7, by dominating the line of scrimmage. The Hawkeyes rushed for 246 yards in 45 carries. Weisman had 147 of those on 24 carries.

Saturday? Weisman had 21 yards in 14 carries. The Hawkeyes finished with 84 yards in 30 carries.

"Hard to swallow," Weisman said. "But it happened."

A year ago, Minnesota had 27 carries for 30 yards. On Saturday, it was 59 carries for 291 yards. In one year, the bully had changed uniforms.

The 205 yards of total offense was the lowest total since a 200-yard day against Nebraska in the final game of the 2012 season. The 84 rushing yards was the fewest since 76 against LSU in the 2014 Outback Bowl. And the 51 points was the most allowed in the 196 games Ferentz has coached at Iowa.

So the offense was bad. So was the defense. And the special teams? Oh, my.

Iowa punted seven times in the game. Minnesota started in Iowa territory after two of those punts, and never deeper than their own 31. Iowa has two scholarship punters, Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd, and no answers.

"We got outplayed and outcoached in all three phases," Ferentz said. "They were clearly the aggressors; we were the acceptors."

So this was a total team loss. We'll see how they respond Saturday in Champaign. Time for a total team flush.

"We got our butts whipped," Weisman said. "And we just have to move on from it. Going forward, that's all we can control."

After some time in front of the mirror.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.