IOWA CITY, Iowa — The higher the altitude, the more painful the fall.
Iowa expected to not only contend for the Big Ten West Division title but to defend last year’s championship. Instead, at 3-2 (1-1 Big Ten), the Hawkeyes appear as another also-ran jockeying for position to a lower-tier bowl game. Northwestern ended a three-game losing streak to their rivals, 38-31, at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. It was an important win for the Wildcats and a reflection of Iowa’s current indigestion.
As for the Hawkeyes’ report card, here’s a look:
Offense (2 stars)
I didn’t think Iowa would score 31 points on Northwestern, yet it did. That should be enough to win, but it wasn’t. It also wasn’t enough to save Iowa’s offense from looking awfully ordinary. The Hawkeyes rushed for only 79 yards (when adjusted for sacks). The sacks were the real killer, giving up six for minus-42 yards. The offense just can’t seem to establish consistency. Receivers are struggling to get open and the line can’t keep quarterback C.J. Beathard upright. The running game was inconsistent. The Hawkeyes still have strides to make on offense.
Defense (1 star)
Iowa’s run defense looks like a broken spaghetti strainer barely holding in the noodles. Every game the Hawkeyes have given up at least 125 yards rushing. Against Northwestern, Iowa allowed 198 yards. The Big Ten’s worst scoring offense put up 38 points and scored on all four red-zone trips. The Wildcats had scored on just three of seven red-zone opportunities entering the game. There are some serious issues on offense, and it’s doubtful they can be corrected.
Special teams (5 stars)
It’s possible to say Iowa’s special teams are its best area right now. Ron Coluzzi drilled every kickoff for a touchback and five of his eight punts went for touchbacks. Desmond King and Riley McCarron averaged 23 yards a punt return. King was explosive, fielding kickoffs at 34.8 yards per return. Kicker Keith Duncan hasn’t missed an extra point and he connected on his second field goal of the season.
Coaching (1 star)
This always seems an either/or department with wins counting as 4 or 5 stars and losses dropping to zero. Iowa strayed too far from the running game when it clearly had been working. The Hawkeyes can’t stop the run, yet they use the same personnel. Penalties crushed both sides of the ball, which speaks to discipline. There’s a difference between adhering to principles and being stubborn. Iowa’s coaching staff often crosses that line.
Overall (0 stars)
These games are pass-fail with no “good job” tickets for almost winning. Iowa expected to win at home, yet it dropped another game at Kinnick as a double-digit favorite – a tiresome act that makes last season seem like a hiccup. The Hawkeyes are at a crossroads, and an irritated group of Gophers are waiting for them next week in Minnesota.