Hensley: ‘What ifs’ will haunt the 2018 Hawkeye football team

A 6-3 record isn’t bad by any means, but Iowa football could easily be undefeated at this point.

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Hensley: ‘What ifs’ will haunt the 2018 Hawkeye football team

Purdue wide receiver Isaac Zico scores a touchdown during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Purdue wide receiver Isaac Zico scores a touchdown during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Katina Zentz

Purdue wide receiver Isaac Zico scores a touchdown during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Purdue wide receiver Isaac Zico scores a touchdown during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was frustrated after Iowa’s loss to Purdue.

He used the word “frustrated” five times, if we’re counting.

The players were frustrated, too, as expected.

“It’s frustrating — I could beat this guy, beat him like a drum, and we’re not even close,” A.J. Epenesa said. “Yeah, it gets pretty frustrating.”

Purdue chipped away, seemingly getting whatever it wanted in the short passing game. And then the Boilermakers had success in the deep passing game. Aside from two interceptions, Purdue quarterback David Blough could do no wrong, and in frustrating fashion.

And so far, that’s how this season has been: frustrating.

The Hawkeyes are 6-3. Yes, being three games above .500 with three games left in the regular season is better than most teams can say at this point. But this season will live on with a what-if stigma.

What if the Hawkeyes don’t have the special-team blunders, the defense gets a stop of Wisconsin’s final drive, or Alex Hornibrook doesn’t have the game of his life?

What if Iowa’s offense doesn’t go dormant against Penn State, Nate Stanley hits T.J. Hockenson in stride on third down, or Hockenson comes down with that pass along the sidelines in the fourth quarter?

What if Iowa’s defense stops Blough on fourth down on Purdue’s final drive or if Julius Brents isn’t flagged for pass interference in the end zone?

Point being, all three of Iowa’s losses are games that the Hawkeyes realistically should have won. Iowa could easily be undefeated this point.

Think back to the 2015 season. The Hawkeyes had five games that were decided by 8 points or fewer in the regular season (six if you count the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State).

Two of Iowa’s losses have been by 6 points or fewer, and the other loss (the one to Wisconsin), was a 4-point game with under a minute remaining.

The Hawkeyes have yet to show a “clutch” gene this season this season. Whether it’s an inability to get a stop late in the game or offensive miscues, Iowa hasn’t come up in crunch time.

There have been plenty of positives this season, but this year will go down as a “what if.”

The Big Ten West is wide-open this season. Wisconsin isn’t the immovable giant it was thought to be, leaving the door wide open for another team to take the No. 1 spot.

Granted, the division is much more competitive than in years past, but given Iowa’s talent and how it’s played earlier this season against such teams as Indiana, Minnesota, and even Maryland, this team could easily be a few games up in the division as we speak.

Now, Iowa’s road to Indianapolis isn’t fully closed, but a loss to Northwestern would effectively shut that door completely.

Iowa does have plenty to play for, because there is the chance — counting a bowl victory — for Iowa to win 10 games this season.

That’s no easy feat, and it’s something Iowa and its fans should be proud of. But given how well this team has played in certain games, I think those Big Ten Championship hopes were never out of the question. This is a team that should be winning the division right now, not sitting in fourth place behind Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Purdue.

There’s still plenty of football to play (yes, a lot can be decided in these next three regular-season games), but I’ll look back on this season and wonder, “What if?”