Hawk Central Huddle: Iowa can still be a 10-win team Rodney White, email@example.com
That's not the sound of an Iowa clunker, but more the Hawkeyes hitting the canvas after being hit with a late haymaker from Purdue last week.
Penalties, poor pass defense, more penalties, more poor pass defense — and the Big Ten West is virtually out of reach.
Although the highest realistic dreams are gone, the season isn't over. At least not yet. It'll be hard to maintain interest if a third straight loss follows this week in a 2:30 p.m. game against Northwestern.
Here's some more on Iowa's projected starters before that Fox-televised tilt.
Quarterback: No. 4, Nate Stanley (6-foot-4, 242 pounds, junior) — The thumb games were set aside last Saturday, as Stanley put an efficient offensive performance together against the Boilermakers (21-for-32, 275 yards, a touchdown). He was the principal reason Iowa lost to Penn State; complaining fans had to sing a different tune last weekend.
Running back: No. 21, Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, sophomore) — We've talked about the committee approach all year (and it came up on our Facebook Live session this week, too). No stat line could prove this more than Saturday's: Kelly-Martin, 10 carries, 39 yards; Mekhi Sargent, 10 carries, 39 yards (yep, identical); Toren Young, nine carries, 45 yards. When you don't have a 100-yard rusher this season, those lines prove more of a liability.
Iowa has just five rushing plays of 20-plus yards (and only one longer than 23) through nine games this season. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
Fullback: No. 46, Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, senior) — There sure seemed to be a concerted effort to get Kelly a rushing touchdown last week. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz had to have seen something he liked, with three carries for Kelly inside the Purdue 5-yard line. But the senior could only muster one total yard on those three attempts.
Tight end: No. 87, Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.) — I know it's not really fair to start a sentence with: "Take away that 65-yard catch and run, and ...", but I'm going to. Take away that 65-yard catch and run, and Fant managed just two other catches for 20 yards. This, a week after disappearing for three quarters for one reason or another. I'm not sure what's going on.
Purdue's relentless defensive holding tactics was something Iowa tight end Noah Fant was asked about Tuesday. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
Tight end: No. 38, T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, Soph.) — On a modest day for all Hawkeye pass-catchers, Hockenson shared the team lead with 39 yards on four grabs with the touchdown. Just kinda "meh."
Split end: No. 12, Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.) — Smith would have killed for "meh." Just two catches for 12 yards. There's been plenty of talk about waiting for Smith's big leap in development. There have been flashes, but they've been strobe-light in length. And there haven't been near enough. It's getting hard to think the lightbulb will truly come on before next season.
Wide receiver: No. 84, Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.) — You have to appreciate Easley's work ethic. But to be the most productive true wide receiver at just 298 yards ... that's another damning year for this position.
Left tackle: No. 77, Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Soph.) — Sometimes, the work gets done for you. Position coach Tim Polasek broke down some of his every-down players at these spots, and they're too good not to share: “It’s actually pretty neat to watch him function in the run game daily. He’s really starting to play well in that area. Technique wise, he’s let some things slide a little bit in pass protection.”
Left guard: No. 59, Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, Sr.) — The Polasek File: “He’s been probably our most dominating run blocker, and I’m just talking big blocks or physical blocks, on a week to week basis.”
Center: No. 69, Keegan Render (6-4, 307, Sr.) — The clear leader of the group, and not just because he's a senior. I can think of a half-dozen times already this season where he's clearly articulated the theme for the week in our reporters' midweek thoughts. Also, from the Polasek File: “We’ve had way less of the communication (errors) than we did last year. And Keegan’s been a one-year starter at center, doing a really good job.”
Right guard: No. 61, Cole Banwart (6-4, 296, Soph.) — Banwart is finally close to healthy after an ankle sprain, thus Dalton Ferguson's spot on the depth chart most of the season. But Banwart ended up starting last week. And, when healthy, he's Iowa's No. 1 guy at this spot, bar none.
Right tackle: No. 74, Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.) — The Polasek File: “I don’t think we’re even scratching the surface yet. (Maybe) he’s given up a hurry or two, but he’s been pretty dang reliable on that right side as far as pass protection goes. We’ve got to get him cleaned up in some of these conceptual things."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz tells us what he's seen from his team following a 38-36 loss to Purdue. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
Left end: No. 98, Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.) — The Hawkeyes managed six tackles for loss (although just one sack, from A.J. Epenesa) on the day. Nelson had one stuff among his four tackles this past week.
Left tackle: No. 90, Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.) — The primary frustration on the defensive line was how Purdue neutralized their effectiveness by constantly throwing over the top. A smart gameplan. And, mercifully, for the Hawkeyes, one that probably can't be replicated by Northwestern this week.
Right tackle: No. 96, Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, Sr.) — In spite of the second consecutive rough scoring day for the defense, Iowa still ranks fifth in the country against the run and eighth in the nation in overall yardage.
Right end: No. 40, Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, Sr.) — Hesse had one of those understated games because of the way the script played out. Four tackles, a couple solo stops. Have to hope there's one more big left for the steady senior.
Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse knows the Big Ten West title is probably out after two straight losses. The Hawkeyes are 6-3. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
Outside linebacker: No. 49 Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, Soph.) — Still listed atop the depth chart, still not starting, as Amani Hooker got this spot and Geno Stone took a safety position. Just one tackle last week, as well. We'll see how this Saturday shakes out.
Middle linebacker: No. 48, Jack Hockaday (6-1, 235, Sr.) or No. 34, Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr.) — Hockaday got the start among this coin-flip position last week, and he was the only one to register in the stat column. I wouldn't expect anything different here this week.
Weak-side linebacker: No. 32, Djimon Colbert (6-1, 234, freshman) — A sixth straight start (and seventh this season) is coming for the freshman, who continues to be the comforting kind of steady. A breakout year will be coming. For now, just continue to be relatively mistake-free.
Left cornerback: No. 20, Julius Brents (6-2, 180, Fr.) — OK, here we go with the rough stuff. Matt Hankins is healthy now and out of the doghouse, and one has to think he's making a reappearance, given the shaky state of the secondary. Brents didn't have as deflating a day as Riley Moss (more to come in a moment), but given the depth chart, he might be splitting time first.
Strong safety: No. 27, Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.) — The middle of the secondary had its moments while remaining under regular assault. Hooker's fourth-quarter interception led to Iowa gaining its 36-35 lead well before The Drive We Won't Talk About.
Free safety: No. 30, Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.) — The secondary was picked on, and that included Gervase. He made 10 stops on the day, eight of which were on his own. Add an interception, and there was plenty of good among some of the bad.
Right cornerback: No. 33, Riley Moss (6-0, 185, Fr.) — In a couple years, we'll look back on this week as a learning opportunity. In the moment, you just want to burn the tape. Moss was burned, time and again, by Terry Wright, and ... well, you know the rest.
Kicker: No. 91, Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.) — Recinos would probably consider his ability to kick two more extra points rather reliable — and rather valuable, in what ended up a two-point game. (Yeah, I think the Hawkeyes started chasing points too early.)
Punter: No. 7, Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.) — Five punts, at an average of 35 yards. Oof. That's Old Rastetter (aka Bad Rastetter).
Kickoff returns: No. 6, Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.) — Smith-Marsette is consistent in his "dang, almost" kick returns. Another 40-yarder this past week, and he's now second in the country at 31.5 yards per runback.
Punt returns: No. 14, Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.) — It's kind of weird to think that you should thumb your nose at a 38-yard punt return, but in the case of last week, you probably should. Groeneweg really could have broken one. And a special teams score is momentum-plus.
NORTHWESTERN PROJECTED STARTERS
Quarterback: No. 18, Clayton Thorson (6-4, 226, Sr.)
Running back: No. 25, Isaiah Bowser (6-1, 216, Fr.)
Slot back: No. 84, Cameron Green (6-3, 237, Jr.) OR No. 80, Trey Pugh (6-4, 239, Soph.)
Wide receiver: No. 8, Kyric McGowan (5-10, 198, Soph.)
Wide receiver: No. 2, Flynn Nagel (5-11, 195, Sr.)
Wide receiver: No. 88, Bennett Skowronek (6-4, 211, Jr.)
Left tackle: No. 72, Blake Hance (6-5, 310, Sr.)
Left guard: No. 59, J.B. Butler (6-3, 308, Sr.) OR No. 52, Sam Gerak (6-3, 295, Fr.)
Center: No. 65, Jared Thomas (6-4, 294, Jr.)
Right guard: No. 71, Tommy Doles (6-4, 296, Sr.)
Right tackle: No. 70, Rashawn Slater (6-3, 314, Soph.)
Defensive end: No. 97, Joe Gaziano (6-4, 275, Jr.)
Defensive end: No. 91, Samdup Miller (6-3, 258, Soph.)
Defensive tackle: No. 99, Jordan Thompson (6-3, 292, Sr.)
Defensive tackle: No. 92, Fred Wyatt (6-4, 288, Sr.)
WILL: No. 51, Blake Gallagher, 6-1, 227, Soph.)
MIKE: No. 42, Paddy Fisher (6-4, 241, Soph.)
SAM: No. 32, Nate Hall (6-2, 231, Sr.)
Cornerback: No. 24, Montre Hartage (6-0, 195, Sr.)
Cornerback: No. 3, Trae Williams (6-0, 209, Jr.)
Safety: No. 13, J.R. Pace (6-1, 200, Soph.)
Safety: No. 41, Jared McGee (6-1, 226, Sr.)
Kicker: No. 14, Charlie Kuhbander (6-0, 180, Soph.)
Punts and kickoffs: No. 49, Jake Collins (6-1, 201, Sr.)
Kickoff returns: No. 8, Kyric McGowan (5-10, 198, Soph.)
Punt returns: No. 19, Riley Lees (6-0, 206, Soph.)