This was the kind of game only a mother could love.
Iowa 14. Rutgers 7.
It doesn’t look good written out. It wasn’t any easier to watch.
The Hawkeyes left with the win, but their inconsistent play throughout said more than the final score. It may be an inconvenient truth, but it’s four games into the season and Iowa is still a work in progress.
“We have a lot of things we can get better at, and that has to be the focus as we move forward,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said during the postgame radio show.
This game won’t be viewed through black-and-gold tinted lenses for the coaching staff. Iowa survived at Rutgers. That’s a sentence the American Medical Association doesn’t recommend typing, not if the team in question holds any serious ambitions.
Too much of the game was a three-hour football equivalent of a McDonald’s lunch. There were just too many empty calories.
Take the offense. A new problem seems to be popping up every week. Iowa solved the ground-game concerns from last week, churning out 193 rushing yards. In its place stepped the passing game, specifically getting the ball to any receiver not named Matt VandeBerg.
Rutgers keyed on VandeBerg. He was limited to four receptions for 17 yards. Iowa never developed a counter. Too often, Hawkeye wide receivers failed to get separation from the secondary.
It’s why there were coverage sacks.
It’s why Beathard held onto the ball as long as he did.
It’s why Beathard looked to run more this game in any other this season.
There was a nice 24-yard catch by wide receiver Jerminic Smith on a back-shoulder toss. But plays like that were a lot like touchdowns on Saturday. It was too rare of a sight.
The Hawkeyes looked good on their final drive of the first half, going 99 yards for a score. Beathard was on point. A smartly designed play resulted in tight end Greg Kittle getting wide open for his 36-yard touchdown.
That didn’t happen enough. The Hawkeyes would move the ball — until they hit third down. Iowa converted only 3 of 11 times. This isn’t a new issue. It’s plagued Iowa all season.
So have penalties, especially coming out of intermission. For the second straight week, a potential touchdown run by LeShun Daniels was called back for a penalty. It’s 14 points and 138 rushing yards that were erased — and that Iowa needed — in two close games.
Guard Ike Boettger was flagged for an illegal block. Ferentz took umbrage with the call and recent rule changes with chop blocks, but he wouldn’t blame the refs.
“We just have to figure out how to make that work better,” Ferentz said.
Iowa was whistled for seven penalties. When the coaching staff is getting flagged — an official ran into an Iowa staffer during a first-half play — it’s officially become a team-wide issue.
“We have to clean that up,” Ferentz said.
Iowa made just enough plays to win. Honestly, probably not one more than was required. The majority were from the defense. Linebacker Josey Jewell put together a highlight-worthy series on a goal-line stand in the second quarter. Defensive back Brandon Snyder forced, and recovered, the fourth quarter fumble that set up Akrum Wadley’s game-winning 26-yard touchdown run.
The defense looked better, but the remodel after the North Dakota State loss isn’t complete yet. For the second straight week an opponent ran with ease at the middle of the Iowa defense. Rutgers, just like North Dakota State, tried to isolate Iowa linebackers and found success.
The Bison showed how to attack the Hawkeyes. Teams will keep doing it until Iowa starts stopping it.
“It’s detail stuff where a guy has to get his nose across a blocker and doesn’t or we might not be all in on the same call,” Ferentz said. “A lot of those little cracks, it’s a fine line and a guy comes through there.”
There are enough holes to let someone slip past Iowa. No. 11 Wisconsin is the new team to beat in the Big Ten West division. The Badgers picked up their second Top 10 win of the season, dismantling No. 8 Michigan State 30-6 on Saturday.
Iowa was the preseason favorite to win the division. It can’t be anymore, not with so much to work on.
Ferentz said this week his team’s typically don’t play its best football in September. He’s right. It’s a good thing Iowa doesn’t host Wisconsin until Oct.22.
There is plenty Iowa must fix before then. Rutgers proved as much.