Agonizing over Iowa – Central Michigan

Iowa Hawkeyes fullback Mark Weisman (45) runs in for a touchdown as Central Michigan Chippewas linebacker Justin Cherocci (41) and defensive back Jarret Chapman (29) attempt to tackle in the second half at Kinnick Stadium. (Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE)

Last Saturday I rose early to feed my college football addiction. Being a son of the Midwest, a die hard Iowa fan and an alum of Wisconsin, I am a full-blown Big Ten addict. The problem; my day job is in the entertainment industry…in Los Angeles. Watching Big Ten football from California is very difficult, actually, it sucks (I’m quoting a Valley girl there). The 11 o’clock starts (growing up in Central Time, I can’t say noon starts) that everyone complains about? Yeah, those start at 9 am out here. If I want to catch any of College GameDay…well, you get the picture.

My beloved Hawks were taking on Central Michigan, a team not expected to contend for a MAC title. After the Northern Illinois game, it looked like Iowa wasn’t as good as I thought they were. After Iowa State, it was obvious, but this was Central Michigan. All of us in Hawkeye Nation had this as a win.

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The game was much more competitive than anyone thought, but Iowa still led 14-10 after the first quarter. That then turned into a 23-14 hole at the half. Panic time. I called my dad in Kinnick and we spent halftime dissecting everything that went wrong.

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz. (Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE)

Iowa came out and improved in the second half for the fourth straight week. An early touchdown followed by a 46-yard field goal into the wind gave Iowa a 24-23 lead. A touchdown with just over two minutes left had me thinking about what to write.

Lines like, “showed growth” and “nice adjustments” were popping up. I was also jazzed about Mark Weisman’s wonderful game. The walk-on fullback had 217 yards on 27 carries with 3 touchdowns while starting in place of the injured stable of running backs. And then…it happened.

Down 8-points with two minutes left is a joke of a choke (to maintain a shred of humor through this deserves something, anybody?), even if it’s to the four horseman of the apocalypse, and to Central Michigan, well that’s just down right criminal.

Iowa came out in the prevent defense against a team with all three timeouts. Predictably, the Chips scored in a hurry (and still had a timeout left). I thought for sure they would convert the two point conversion and my boys would have an agonizing overtime loss. I think Iowa is 0-145 in overtime games, give or take a few. Instead the Chips missed the conversion. One play left, that was it, just recover the onside kick, the win is in the bag and all the ugliness can be forgiven in a 3-1 start.

It was a windy game from start to finish. The ball was blown off the tee as Central went through their fake-out attempt when two players approached the ball, but it was clear that the kick was going to Iowa’s left. Everyone lined up and the ball was blown off again. Central asked if it was a rule to have a holder. After all, why would they want one less player to field the ball. There was discussions with the CMU staff and the refs huddled themselves before deciding it was a rule, not an option. In this confusion, the play clock just sort of started. I’m not sure when it did, but by the time Central was all ready, it was nearly at zero. Central was midway through running up for the kick when the flag was tossed and the whistle sounded, but the kicker couldn’t stop, the attempt went to Iowa’s left.

After the five yard penalty the holder knelt down again and the kick went to Iowa’s left, again. Everyone and their brother knew this is where CMU wanted to place the ball. Iowa was totally unprepared for this. Even worse, they had a tight end as the fielder on that side. Never have a tight end on hands team, never ever forever. Worse, the kid must have thought that it became a first and fifteen scenario because he didn’t even go for the ball. Regardless of the penalty, an onside kick only ever has to go ten yards. Central recovered with 0:45 left.

First down was a gain of four to the center of the field. I was delighted, just a sack would force a the final time out or bleed the clock very far down. Second down was an incomplete pass. Third down and, oh man, a flag. An unsportsmanlike call that I still haven’t seen moved the ball to the Iowa 39-yard line.

Regardless of if it was, or wasn’t a good call, the fact is it was Iowa’s fourth call of the day of that variety. You have to know how a game is being called and act accordingly. Give the ref no reason to flag you. Overall, it was the 9th penalty (for 106 yards) against the home team. That much free movement is a back breaker for any team.

On the next play CMU quarterback Ryan Radcliff scrambled up the gut for nine yards and they took their final timeout. An incomplete pass followed and CMU was ready to kick it. A 47-yarder from a MAC kicker. Normally, I’d take it, but the way the game was going I told my fellow Hawkeye faithful that he was going to boom it dead center. It wasn’t a flawless kick, but it got the job done. With just a couple of seconds left, the damage was done.

This was the worst Iowa football loss I can remember in a while, possibly even during the entire Kirk Ferentz era (which dates to 1999). Not because we choked, or that it was an upset, or that it was close, but because of the gaffes we made. The players made a ton, but so did the staff. I’m not sure which coach cost Iowa the most (and this is with the knowledge that Ferentz is the boss of all of them):

1. Phil Parker for going prevent with over two minutes left and the opponent having three time outs.

2. Lester Erb and Darrell Wilson for having the most moronic onsides kick unit in the history of mankind.

3. Greg Davis for giving Central three points at the end of the first half. With CMU having all of their timeouts, Iowa got the ball with two minutes to go at the 17 yard line. A holding penalty moved them back to the 11. Incomplete pass on first, then another incomplete pass on second. Third down failed and Central takes a timeout. The Chips get the ball back with 1:30 to go and two timeouts. If there is ever a time to go conservative it was there. Hilariously, the first play after the punt was an Iowa personal foul.

I have been a big Ferentz supporter and I still am. His successes have matched Hayden Fry’s for the most part, maybe a touch ahead since he has a BCS bowl victory; something Fry never achieved, but with big bucks comes big expectations. Every program has lean years, but even in a bad season you must find a way to knock off a non-BCS team that isn’t even expected to contend for their own conference title. This is especially true when you are compensated the way Ferentz is.

Kirk has a rather hefty buyout and is under contract until 2020. The wheels would have to fall completely off, and by that, I mean back-to-back 3-9 seasons for the seat to be very hot. Considering Iowa hasn’t had a losing record since Ferentz’s second season a decade ago, the odds of one 3-9 season, let alone two in a row, is a long shot. It’s clear Iowa’s offense is struggling to get going under a new coordinator, but that could change with time.

There are still eight games left and a lot can happen. As it stands now though, this does not look like a team that can go 4-4 in the Big Ten and make a bowl game. To put in perspective how foreign this feels to think about, Iowa has been bowl eligible every year but Ferentz’s first two, and has gone to a bowl every year but three under Ferentz.

Like all Iowa fans, I’ll be rooting hard for my Hawks Saturday, especially since I’m making the trip back for the “Floyd of Rosedale” game, but I am mighty worried about those stinking Gophers and the season on the whole. That is what happens when you lose a tight one to Central Michigan and fall to 2-2, rather than win a tight one that improves your record to 3-1. That lone result can feel like a punch to the gut all week until you get a crack at turning it around. Oh man, I just remembered Iowa hasn’t lost to Minnesota in Iowa City since 1999. Another bit of history about to be taken from us…time to return to that coma I had on Monday.

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