Leistikow: Hawkeyes lose their composure, control of their season
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz often refers to Kodak moments — snapshot images that represent the real story.
Saturday, we might have seen the one that unraveled Iowa’s 2016 football season.
The Hawkeyes trailing Northwestern by a touchdown, Josey Jewell stopped Northwestern’s Justin Jackson for a 2-yard gain on the last play of the third quarter, but was flagged for a face mask.
Fifteen yards, automatic first down.
Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson made it worse, saying something to an official he shouldn’t have.
Unsportsmanlike conduct: Another 15 yards.
And the most important fourth quarter of Iowa’s season began with Northwestern suddenly across midfield after 30 gifted penalty yards. The Wildcats punched in a touchdown six plays later and shocked the heavily-favored Hawkeyes, 38-31, in front of a wet and feisty crowd at Kinnick Stadium.
In that decisive sequence, the Hawkeyes lost their composure — and maybe their season.
Unless something changes — and fast — that’ll be the lasting image of what’s shaping up to be a disappointing year.
More coverage from Saturday's loss:
- Iowa 'capable of so much more' in 38-31 loss to Northwestern
- McCarron moves in for VandeBerg despite Iowa’s pass game problems
- Iowa takeaways: The run defense still stinks
- Beathard must lead to get Hawkeyes back on track
Johnson’s outburst might be to 2016 what Wisconsin's fake punt was to 2010.
“I just think maybe we’re a little undisciplined right now,” Jewell said afterward, and that was just one of many concerning quotes that emerged Saturday.
Cornerback Desmond King, Iowa’s best player in the game: “They really out-coached us in the passing game. We did what we could.”
Quarterback C.J. Beathard, after being sacked six times and throwing a last-minute interception as Iowa tried to drive for the tying touchdown: “Right now, we’re not playing well enough in any aspect of our game.”
Receiver Riley McCarron, after more offensive inconsistency: “It’s hard to execute plays when your quarterback is getting sacked.”
And Johnson himself, who was apologetic about his mistake: “I can’t really sit here and tell you what the issue is, because I really don’t know.”
Take your pick on any of those quotes. None of them say anything good about the direction of this Hawkeye season.
Ferentz agreed with King, by the way, on being out-coached.
“Ultimately, we didn't play well enough. We didn't coach well enough,” the 18th-year coach said. “And Northwestern did a better job today.”
A season that started with Big Ten Conference championship dreams is now hanging by a thread.
A 3-2 record with the easiest part of the schedule in the rear view mirror?
Forget division championship. Suddenly, bowl eligibility seems dicey.
King didn’t forego a shot at the NFL to come back and lose at home to North Dakota State and Northwestern.
“We didn’t play our best. I know (that) for sure,” King said. “I know what kind of team we have — the ability we can play with. Today was just not a good day for us.”
It’s not a good look when the Big Ten’s worst scoring offense puts up 38 points in your house.
Temper tantrums aren’t a good look, either — even though fans, too, were boiling with frustration after officials didn’t flag Northwestern for an apparent face mask on Beathard a few moments earlier.
“That goes perfectly under discipline — understanding what you can or can’t do,” Jewell said of Johnson’s reaction. “Knowing your role. And really, you know, how to act on the football field. We need to do a lot better on that.”
How will the Hawkeyes bounce back?
Can they bounce back?
Or are there too many persistent issues — poor pass protection, mental-mistake penalties, below-average run defense — to fix on the fly?
“To me, the focus right now is on the next six days,” Ferentz said. “How much improvement, how well can we get better, better prepared to play a better game.”
Hawkeye players talk about leaving their jersey in a better place than where they found it.
They need to understand there's more than a football season at stake. Their legacy is at stake.
It's worth noting that while the Hawkeyes lost as a double-digit favorite for the second time in 15 days, one of its four-star Class of 2017 commitments, defensive back Chevin Calloway, was visiting Nebraska.
Saturday at Minnesota has become a must-win — and not just for the slim chance that this Iowa team could rally to repeat as Big Ten West champion.
The Hawkeye program is suddenly in desperate need of a new Kodak moment.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.