Saturday, October 31, 2009

What is with Iowa?

They are 9-0. They are #4 in the BCS. They just beat Indiana by 18. And, somewhat coincidentally, they also just got whooped up and down the field for 3+ quarters against Indiana, generally looking like crap in doing so.

Up to this point, every time I have watched Iowa I have been impressed. Their defensive line has been very strong, if not overpowering, against teams like Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been unexceptional, but effective enough to win games. They have played smart football and they have played Iowa football, grinding games out in somewhat unattractive fashion.

How then to explain what happened today? For three quarters, it seemed the referees, the Indiana players and the football gods were all conspiring to keep Iowa in the game no matter how badly they played, and Iowa kept trying to turn down every chance they got. After Iowa fell behind 14-0 early in the game, Stanzi came alive near the end of the second quarter, completing three straight passes to get the Hawkeyes in scoring position inside the 10, from where freshman running back Brandon Wegher finished the drive. Their defense then responded with a strong stand to force Indiana to punt with under a minute left in the half, allowing Iowa to feel incredibly fortunate about the prospects of going into the locker room only down a touchdown after being whooped for 30 minutes. So what happens on that punt? Junior Amari Spievey unwisely fields the ball inside the 10 and then proceeds to dance and spin seemingly unaware that he had the ball in his hands 90 yards away from anywhere productive with the clock running down, and the ball winds up on the ground and eventually in the hands of a Hooiser. Two plays later, Indiana is taking a 21-7 lead into the half instead of a 14-7 lead.

Things get worse for Iowa early in the second half as Stanzi throws his second and third interception of the day (and he's not done yet, folks), with his third INT leaving the Hoosier with a first and goal at the four. However, two plays later on 3rd and goal, Hawkeye sophomore strong safety Tyler Sash grabs ahold of a wildly batted ball and sprints the remaining 86 yards for a Hawkeye touchdown for at least a 10-point swing. Instead of the Hoosiers potentially taking a 24-7 lead with a chip shot field goal, Iowa is back within a TD at 21-14.

But, Indiana doesn't flinch and their junior quarterback Ben Chappell hits a big play to sophomore wide receiver Damario Belcher to put the Hoosiers in scoring position, and then a couple plays later Chappell hits junior wide receiver Terrance Turner for a pretty apparent touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The call was ruled a TD on the field, and replays seemed to confirm that Turner dragged his foot in the end zone with possession of the ball. However, the refs and football gods got together again to give Iowa a boost and overruled the call, and the Indiana team joined in the charity as they then proceeded to miss a chip-shot field goal.

But Iowa and Stanzi were having none of it. "We will not take your charity," they shouted, as Stanzi proceeded to throw his fourth INT of the day, leaving Indiana with the ball at the Iowa 25. The Hoosiers couldn't take full advantage of the field position, but were able to add a FG, putting them up 24-14.

And Stanzi wasn't quite done yet, throwing his fifth INT on the next drive.

And then, the clock ran out on the third quarter, and there must have been a buzzer or a bell or maybe some AM radio was played on the PA system, because Iowa rolled over, turned off the alarm clock and got the hell out of bed.

In the 4th quarter, Indiana amassed 32 yards, and Chappell threw two INTs. Iowa, meanwhile, scored touchdowns on successive offensive plays of 92 yards (Stanzi to sophomore Marvin McNutt) and 66 yards (Stanzi to junior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos), and then added two more touchdowns on long grind-it-out Iowa-type drives to turn the final score into a yawner, 42-24.

Now, give credit to the Hawkeyes for being able to beat a team they should have beaten on a day when they didn't play their best, but this was a really perplexing game to watch. For the better part of three and a half quarters, Iowa was out there throwing the ball around like they were Air Coryell or something, almost ignoring Wegher for most of the game, even while Stanzi flailed in the wind. And, even more perplexing, the Iowa defensive line that has looked so extraordinary against other Big Ten offensive lines (and certainly more highly regarded offensive lines as well) was utterly ineffective for much of the day against the Hoosier offensive line.

Iowa still remains on track for a battle against the Buckeyes in Columbus for the Big Ten title in a couple weeks, but given the way they played today, questions that were previously thought answered about the Hawkeyes are back in play again.

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