Sunday, November 13, 2011

Iowa is a .500 Big Ten football team with two games left

Against the top two division teams in the Big Ten, Penn State (8-2, 5-1 B1G Leaders) and Michigan State (8-2, 5-1 B1G Legends), Iowa (6-4, 3-3 B1G Legends) wasn't equal, losing 13-3 at Penn State to open the Big Ten conference season, then losing 37-21 on Senior Day this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium against Michigan State.

The Hawkeyes are coming off three straight seasons, winning each of their bowl games. In 2009, Iowa played with the Big Ten title on the line at Ohio State, but lost 24-27 in OT. Iowa QB James Vandenberg lead Iowa in that competitive game in Columbus, in relief of starter Ricky Stanzi, who was out due to injury. Stanzi was a key piece in leading Iowa to three bowl wins.

But, in Iowa's four losses in 2011, Vandenberg has often struggled at QB. Iowa's other two losses were on the road, with a 44-41 3OT loss at Iowa State, then a 22-21 loss at Minnesota. Turnovers have been a common denominator in Iowa's four losses this season. In Iowa's latest loss on Senior Day, vs. Michigan State, Iowa was a minus three in turnover margin.

Typically, Quarterbacks lose more games at the Big Ten level, than win them. Balance, with strong offense, defense and special teams are all typically needed. Wisconsin has a good team this year, but special teams have lead to breakdowns and losses. Iowa's special teams breakdowns last year, caused similar results.

Game management is important at the Quarterback position, but all phases need to step up. Since Iowa's 7-1 Big Ten season in 2004, Iowa's special teams have been hit and miss. Iowa has had some good performers, but consistency and execution has caused issues. Both coaching mistakes and player execution problems have been noticed in Iowa City, lately.

In the game Saturday vs. Michigan State, Iowa was victim of another special team breakdown, when the Spartans executed a fake field goal. A good Michigan State defense didn't make it easy for Iowa, but at times, Iowa simply looks out of sync.

Yeah, I don't know. I guess you'd have to say we weren't ready. We
didn't look ready. We left the door open way too many times in all three phases.
It wasn't just any one segment. Little details. Just little things, all the
basics that either help you win or make it tougher to win
, Iowa
coach Kirk Ferentz commenting what was the key to MSU game

Iowa will lose 18 seniors, after this season. So, where are the Hawkeyes headed, as they close out the final two games on the road in the Big Ten? Iowa is bowl eligible for the eleventh straight season, but a trip to Detroit is not what the Iowa fans had in mind heading into 2011.

Iowa will face difficult challenges on the road with games at Purdue (5-5, 3-3 B1G Leaders) this week, then a major showdown at Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 B1G Legends) on Black Friday. The games at Purdue and Nebraska will have major bowl implications for all three teams. Both games will have an 11 a.m. kickoff. The Purdue game will be on the Big Ten Network and ABC Sports will air the Nebraska game on Black Friday.

The Hawkeyes were at a crossroads, at 2-2, after the loss at Minnesota. Iowa rebounded with a solid 24-16 win over Michigan (8-2, 4-2 Legends), which was clearly Iowa's best game in 2011. But, unlike returning to the home field of Kinnick Stadium facing Michigan, Iowa will face two major road games, where Iowa is 0-3 for 2011. Next up: @ Purdue on Saturday.

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