Hawks look for strong November


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Tyler Nielsen offered some perspective after Iowa’s 22-21 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 29.

"5-3 is not the end of the world by any means," the senior linebacker said. "It’s a tough loss today."

Nielsen is right. Iowa’s 5-3 record isn’t the end of the world. The Hawkeyes still control their own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division — if they win their remaining games, they’ll go to Indianapolis for the championship game in December.

But Saturday’s loss could serve as the beginning of the end to a disappointing season if they don’t play well in their final four games.

If that still sounds melodramatic, revisit Kirk Ferentz’s words from last season.

"If you’re going to have a good team and a good season, you have to play well in November," he said in Nov. 2, 2010. "I think that goes without saying."

This year, the month has two home games — against No. 13 Michigan on Saturday and against No. 15 Michigan State on Nov. 12 — road games are at Purdue on Nov. 19 and No. 9 Nebraska on Nov. 25.

But Ferentz disagreed with the idea that the difficulty of Iowa’s schedule is about to increase drastically.

"We think all conference games are tough — at least, history’s proven that, I think," the 13th-year Iowa coach said following the loss to Minnesota. "… We’ve got four more games left. I felt this morning [Saturday] when I woke up that we had a chance to win any of the games on our schedule, and we can lose any of them. And I still feel the same way. The season’s not over."

Iowa’s 22-4 record at Kinnick Stadium since 2008 might bode well for its next two games, although the Hawkeyes’ recent November results aren’t as encouraging.

Linebacker James Morris said, "Traditionally, Kirk Ferentz teams are November teams," but Iowa is just 2-5 in the month over the last two seasons.

Bucking that trend might prove especially difficult because those two Hawkeye squads still ranked among the nation’s top 25 in total defense. Iowa is currently allowing 402.3 yards a game, ranked 76th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, ninth in the Big Ten.

As Morris said, "We got what we deserved [against Minnesota], and we got exposed for what we are in certain areas."

One of those areas — run defense — will be a point of concern again Saturday versus Michigan. Iowa allowed 178 rushing yards to Minnesota, which has the conference’s second-worst ground game. It remains to be seen how the Wolverines will fare, but they’re running for more than 240 yards a game — including 103.1 from dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson.

A good season is still attainable for the Hawkeyes. But it won’t come easily.

"Leadership’s going to be real important in these last four games. How are we going to respond to [the loss]?" Nielsen said. "… We have four games left in the season, and we have to go out there and make it happen."