Digital Rewind: To the last, Iowa will remain an enigma

Danny Lawhon
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It took 11 tries, but the Hawk Central live chat finally had that emotional roller coaster and a big-game feel that had been largely missing in a season set with few circle-the-date matchups.

Indeed, Saturday's 26-24 loss to Wisconsin had all the peaks and valleys you'd expect from what unfolded as an unexpected classic at Kinnick Stadium.

All except that Iowa win, of course, which would have kept a Big Ten Conference title-game berth alive.

So instead, an awakening on the offensive end down the stretch merely brought readers back to a lifeless first half, where quarterback Jake Rudock and the Hawkeyes managed just 146 total yards and three points, with three possessions netting less than 15 yards of movement.

Those 21 second-half points, in defeat, only added more confusion to an enigma of a season whose verdict is strongly tilting toward disappointment.

Take it from game TV analyst Chris Spielman, on the call for ESPN and ABC, who had seen enough with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter and the Hawkeyes down 16-3.

"I'm putting (backup quarterback C.J.) Beathard in the ballgame, because the offense is stale," he said. "It's nothing right now. There's no threat of throwing the ball down the field. Beathard brings a run element he ball game and he can throw a deep ball."

Cue up the sound an hour later, when Rudock trimmed the deficit to its final margin and finished with 311 passing yards …

"Jake Rudock has made a believer out of me this second half," Spielman conceded.

Doubters, believers — such a flip was a microcosm of the day and the season for an Iowa football team that ultimately should be doing more with a friendly Big Ten slate than its modest 7-4 record.

Frustration seemed a certain ending in the first half, where the offense looked a gear or two behind its division-leading counterpart.

"The defense may be slowly fading," chimed in reader SAR just before intermission, "as we've seen a lot this season. But the offense just goes into the fetal position for long stretches way too often."

Then, as Iowa charged back within two points in the fourth quarter and Kirk Ferentz gave officials an earful when having to use a timeout on a tying conversion attempt, criticism gave a backseat to rallying around the black and gold.

"Lol, the chat is fired up with that display by our Head Coach!!! GO HAWKS," said tsamp62 in one of many similarly-themed cries of support.

But as Wisconsin converted its last of seven successful third-downs in 13 attempts and put furious rally attempts to rest, the big picture opened up for those commenting on the team each week.

"Well, we saw the team with the gloves on and with the gloves off," surmised SparrowHawk. "Just shows me how short-sighted our offensive strategy has been all year…"

There's one more regular-season week for the vision of this fall to clear up, but the most likely bit of clarity is that the mist and fog over Iowa's 2014 uneven performance likely won't clear up.

THE SPIELMAN SHOW: Sometimes, Chris Spielman's analysis wears on me. Too often with traditional Big Ten powers, I think he kowtows to the blue-blood programs, and it skews his in-game opinions.

Not so Saturday. I thought he was the most on-point any Iowa color analyst has been all season.

Beyond the apt metamorphosis of Jake Rudock's day mentioned earlier, some other examples:

Freshman linebacker Bo Bower improved considerably from the first half to the second half, but Spielman noticed a couple of near-misses for the improving part of the Iowa defense.

"Bo Bower has ad an almost game so far," Spielman said. "He almost had the pas covered. He almost gets a (tackle for loss) right here) Good move, but there's the power (of Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon)."

The next play, however, Bower had that elusive tackle for loss.

"Bo Bower, making me eat my words," said Spielman.

On the biggest back-breaking drive of the second quarter, Spielman noticed several examples of Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin overpursuing on the fringes of the defense against running quarterback Tanner McEvoy.

"That's twice. You talk about the importance of playing team defense. You must leverage the ball," he said. "All your pursuit and help is coming from the inside. Mabin, No. 13, gets a little bit nosy again. … You must force the ball inside at all costs. That's twice so far Mabin has let the ball get outside of him, and lost leverage."

Spielman's comments weren't all negative to start with, though. In the fourth quarter, video footage coming in from a commercial break showed the Iowa wrestling program, and Spielman gave kudos to the Hawkeyes' most regularly successful sports program.

"I state this unequivocally; Wrestlers are the toughest athletes in the world, both mentally and physically. By far. They're warriors," he said.

He was even to successfully make a Dan Gable reference. So, good on you, Chris.

ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICS: I'm just gonna paste this graphic here at let you figure out the injustice done.

Nope. Not Iowa's offensive line. Ouch. On the mistakes scale, bad faces and bad names is almost as ugly as it gets.

Check out the replay of the chat here, and join us next Friday at 11 a.m. for the Nebraska game to conclude the regular season.