Brown: Iowa's rocky season fueled by inconsistency
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The past week paints a portrait of Iowa's 2014 football season better than anything else I can come up with.
In a 26-24 loss to No. 15 Wisconsin last week, the Hawkeyes scored touchdowns on their final three possessions of the game to nearly upset the Badgers. This, against a team that was ranked No. 1 nationally total defense.
In Friday's 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska, Iowa started three first-half drives with first-and-goal opportunities inside the Cornhuskers' 10. They resulted in two turnovers and a field goal.
Same players. Same uniforms. Same stadium. Far from the same results.
That inconsistency is why Iowa finished fourth in the West Division of the Big Ten, is 7-5 overall and destined for a so-so bowl game instead of a more prestigious postseason prize.
Iowa football under coach Kirk Ferentz has been all about execution, discipline, player development and consistency. Ferentz's best teams at Iowa were rock-solid in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams. But there seems to be a great disconnect now.
Nothing seems predictable. Remember that old manta that Ferentz teams get better in November? This team lost three of its final four regular-season games. Iowa is 8-15 in November over the past six seasons.
Remember when Kinnick Stadium was a great home-field advantage? Iowa is 10-11 there over the last three seasons.
Unpredictability works the other way, too.
Ferentz has been criticized during his 16-year tenure of being too conservative on offense. Iowa's Desmond King intercepted a Tommy Armstrong Jr. pass at the Iowa 41 with 1:22 remaining in the first half and Hawkeyes in front 10-0. Instead running out the clock, the Hawkeyes threw caution to the wind and went for more.
Damond Powell couldn't bring in the ball on a deep sideline pattern on first down. Powell had a 6-yard reception on second down, but was stripped of the ball. Nebraska went 36 yards in five plays and scored a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining. That series seemed to give the Cornhuskers' stagnant offense a spark it carried into the second half.
So it's been that kind of unpredictable season. Iowa will learn its bowl fate a week from Sunday. It will be Ferentz's 12th bowl team. Usually, there's never any question about the Hawkeyes' level of motivation heading into a bowl game. But getting this team ready to play might be his biggest challenge.
A bowl victory would be a nice appetizer heading into the next season. But it won't mask the disappointment of 2014 as a whole. And Friday's loss will linger for awhile.
"Yeah, it will linger, but the big thing is we've got to get back up on our feet and figure out how to win our eighth game," Ferentz said.
And then will come an even bigger challenge: figuring out the future. Iowa loses six starters on offense — left tackle Brandon Scherff, center Tommy Gaul, right tackle Andrew Donnal, tight end Ray Hamilton, wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and running back Mark Weisman.
The defense loses four starters — defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, linebacker Quinton Alston and strong safety John Lowdermilk.
Ferentz has big holes to fill. And he needs to head into the future while trying to replicate the past, when offense, defense and special teams were a winning trifecta.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
IOWA'S 2015 SCHEDULE
Sept. 5 — Illinois State
Sept. 12 — at Iowa State
Sept. 19 — Pittsburgh
Sept. 26 — North Texas
Oct. 3 — at Wisconsin
Oct. 10 — Illinois
Oct. 17 — at Northwestern
Oct. 31 — Maryland
Nov. 7 — at Indiana
Nov. 14 — Minnesota
Nov. 21 — Purdue
Nov. 27 — at Nebraska