What now? Iowa Hawkeyes have no choice but to move on to Nebraska.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Akrum Wadley is a man of few words. They’re usually pretty dang good words, though. Insightful. Funny at times. Great quotes.
On Saturday, he was brutally honest with what he didn’t say.
What changed in the second half? "Not sure."
What has happened to this team since the Ohio State win? "No comment."
Thoughts on moving forward and needing a win for a decent bowl game? "No comment."
Wadley didn’t have answers — or, at least, not ones he wanted to share publicly. Truth is, nobody had answers after Iowa’s head-scratching 24-15 loss to Purdue. A couple of players offered your typical "they outworked us" responses, but that feels hard to believe on a Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium.
Instead, this feels like a team that’s lost its mojo since a historic rout of Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Aside from its two scoring drives Saturday, Iowa has mustered just 229 yards in the past two weeks, while allowing too many big plays on defense to support a struggling offense (10 gains of 15-plus yards; four gains of 20-plus yards).
The Hawkeyes now have a short week to reclaim some of the magic from its Nov. 4 win over the Buckeyes. They close the regular season this Friday at Nebraska, a lowly 4-7 version of the Huskers that just let Penn State pile up 609 yards.
Two weeks ago, a win against Nebraska sounded like a formality for a young, improving Iowa team that had just jumped to 20th in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Now, it’s the closest thing to a "must-win" you can have.
"We’re just going to keep at it. What else can we do, right?" Sean Welsh said. "Let’s just go back to work."
The Hawkeyes are likely gone from Holiday Bowl consideration after committee member Steve Norton was on hand for Iowa’s dismal performance against Purdue. With a win against the Huskers, Iowa would likely land in the Music City Bowl (Nashville) or the Pinstripe Bowl (New York City). With a loss, Kirk Ferentz’s 6-6 team could fall to the Foster Farms Bowl (Santa Clara, California).
In terms of location, fans might enjoy the Foster Farms Bowl the most. But in terms of bowl prestige, the Hawkeyes would like to avoid flying to California (unless it’s somehow for the Holiday Bowl).
A short week can be good for a team in Iowa's situation. Flush last week’s performance down the drain. Hit a system reset button, in a sense. Yearn to get back out on the field and prove the doubters wrong.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Because what can also happen with a loss like Iowa’s — or a two-game skid like Iowa’s — is the hangover effect, where one loss turns to two, two turns to three, three to four, etc. A team dwells on everything that went wrong the previous week and doesn't prepare properly for what's next.
In that sense, the Hawkeyes certainly looked "hungover" against Purdue.
"That's going to be the challenge for us," Ferentz said. "And that short window we've got to show some improvement. And a week like this, this far into the season, a lot of it is mental, and it's going to have to be done."
Nebraska can score some points. The Huskers rank sixth in the Big Ten Conference in points per game, with 26.8. But it's defense has just been awful this season, dragging along at the bottom of the Big Ten in points allowed per game, with 34.6.
Most of the Huskers' offense comes via the pass — 284.5 yards per game. Tanner Lee (2,938 passing yards) and his capable quartet of pass-catchers — Stanley Morgan Jr. (912 yards), JD Spielman (830 yards), De'Mornay Pierson-El Bryant (584 yards) and Tyler Hoppes (340 yards) — will pose challenges for Iowa's corners not named Josh Jackson, who all had games to forget against Purdue.
The Iowa-Nebraska game will kick this Friday at 3 p.m. It'll air on Fox Sports 1.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.