ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No offense, but …
Actually, that’s it.
That’s the sentence that best describes why the No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes walked out of Michigan Stadium 10-3 losers to No. 18 Michigan on Saturday.
Iowa had 13 possessions to do something, anything, against a Michigan defense that was feeding off a crowd of 111,519 and putting quarterback Nate Stanley under siege.
There was one drive that lasted 14 plays and resulted in a 22-yard Keith Duncan field goal.
Four others ended with Iowa turnovers.
Seven times, the Hawkeyes punted.
And the final Hawkeye chance culminated with a ridiculous-looking play in which Stanley retreated under heavy pressure from Michigan’s Daxton Hill, realized he couldn’t accept a ninth sack, and flipped a left-handed pass to running back Tyler Goodson, who gamely headed upfield on a mission impossible.
Goodson lost one yard. Iowa lost the game. The offense lost the swagger it had built through four games in which it produced 134 points and only one turnover.
“We knew coming in to the game we were going to have to execute basically on every play and give ourselves our best opportunity,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But we came up short in that regard.”
It was odd watching an Iowa offense that had excelled at taking care of the football, at not hurting itself with penalties or negative-yardage plays, become so flummoxed by Michigan (4-1, 2-1 Big Ten Conference).
In addition to the eight sacks of Stanley, Iowa was flagged for eight penalties, three of them offensive holding calls. It made it impossible for Iowa (4-1, 1-1) to maintain offensive momentum, despite the fact that its defense was matching Michigan stop for stop after the opening seven minutes.
Iowa had 13 offensive plays that produced gains of 10 or more yards. But it also had five snaps on which it lost at least 10 yards. The result was an average of 3.6 yards per play.
“Part of it was the environment. We do the best that we can to replicate crowd noise, and we got some crowd noise today where maybe we moved off the ball a little too late and a guy gets sloppy with his technique,” Iowa guard Levi Paulsen said.
“From the stadium, you can definitely tell that they get cranked up when they get us in sticky situations. But it’s our job to go out every week and replicate that and be locked in on, ‘Hey, we’re going to go on a silent count here.’”
The good news for Iowa’s offense was that it kept intact its perfect mark on scoring in the red zone. The bad news: It only gave itself one such opportunity.
The running game was nonexistent in the first half, reappeared at the outset of the second half and then was essentially abandoned. Toren Young led the Hawkeyes with eight carries for 40 yards, including a 15-yard burst on the opening play of the second half.
“You get in some long-yardage situations where you’re not getting the yards you want on first, it just kind of alters your viewpoint a little bit,” Ferentz said of Iowa’s rushing production.
Stanley, under near-constant duress, made some fantastic throws to finish with 260 yards through the air. But he was also indecisive and sloppy at times. He threw his first interception of the season in the first quarter, right after Iowa safety Geno Stone had given the offense the ball with a pick of his own.
Stanley followed with two more interceptions.
Iowa’s offense couldn’t get out of its own way. The Hawkeye line couldn’t often enough get in Michigan’s way.
It was a bad combination.
And it led to the lowest-scoring Big Ten Conference game since November 2009, according to the Elias Stats Bureau. That’s when Iowa blanked Minnesota 12-0.
The Hawkeyes are now 61-2 in Ferentz’s 21 years as head coach when holding opponents to 10 points or fewer. There was also a 9-6 loss to Iowa State in 2012.
That’s not the kind of company the Iowa offense wants to keep. Up next is a sold-out Oct. 12 home game against Penn State, a team that sacked Purdue quarterbacks 10 times Saturday.
“It’s obviously frustrating to not be able to sustain (drives). They did a great job at not allowing us to make those plays,” Stanley said of Michigan’s defense.
“This is in the past. The only thing you can do is learn from it.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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