Opinion | Hawkeyes make too many self-inflicted mistakes to open season with win

Iowa had its opportunities to pull away from Purdue, but turnovers, penalties, and questionable clock management prevented that from happening.


Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Spor

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent (10) runs the ball while Purdue Boilermakers try and tackle him in the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two lost fumbles, 10 penalties, questionable clock management at the end of the first half, and an inability to convert on third down late in the game — that’s football.

It’s just not very good football. At least not good enough for Iowa to win its season opener against Purdue. The Hawkeyes, once seemingly in control of the game, made too many self-inflicted errors at Ross-Ade Stadium and allowed the Boilermakers to take the late lead and secure a 24-20 victory.

“It’s discipline,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. “Attention to detail. We kind of pride ourselves with being brilliant with the basics, and I don’t think we were that [against Purdue]. Self-inflicted wounds are never easy.”

The Iowa offense, lauded throughout the offseason for the potential it has, did gain 460 yards on Saturday. But the Hawkeyes only managed 20 points. How is that possible? Let’s review.

The Hawkeyes started slow on offense, but given the challenges of the offseason practice schedule, maybe that isn’t totally surprising. On the third drive of the game, the offense started moving the ball, in large part to a 40-yard catch and run by running back Tyler Goodson.

Iowa didn’t score deep in Purdue territory when, later in the drive, Goodson fumbled after his own offensive lineman — Cole Banwart — ran into him and popped the ball loose. Purdue recovered the fumble.

On the team’s second-to-last offensive drive of the game, with the Hawkeyes up three and driving to make it a two-possession game late in the fourth quarter, running back Mekhi Sargent burst free for a 13-yard gain but fumbled the ball at the Boilermakers’ 28-yard line. Purdue recovered and quarterback Aidan O’Connell led a game-winning drive.

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Those two drives were chances for points on the road in the Big Ten, which are always crucial, even if the road environment Iowa played in didn’t have fans in attendance. But Iowa dropped the ball, literally.

Purdue scored seven points off of turnovers. Iowa only scored three. That hurts in a four-point defeat.

There was also an instance at the end of the first half where Iowa settled for three points, but had a real chance at scoring seven if it were not for questionable clock management.

After cornerback Matt Hankins intercepted O’Connell’s pass with 31 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Iowa tried to score. The game was tied at 14-14, but the Hawkeyes wanted the halftime lead. They got it. But it could have been more.

Petras fired a strike to Sam LaPorta for a 20-yard gain to Purdue’s 10-yard line. The offense hurried to the line of scrimmage. Instead of spiking the ball or calling a timeout, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called a running play for Tyler Goodson around the right side of the line. It was stopped for no gain. Timeout Iowa. Four seconds remaining in the half.

Keith Duncan hit the chip-shot field goal and put Iowa up 17-14. Had Iowa killed the clock rather than running the ball, Petras would have had some shots into the end zone. Again, a potential four-point swing in a four-point Iowa loss.

“I think if we had to do it over again, we’d probably take a shot at the end zone,” Ferentz said. “We had time for one more throw back down in there and then go for the field goal. We were hoping the run would pop through there, too. Sometimes that happens. But we were not playing for the field goal.”

From turnovers to clock management to inconsistent quarterback play, Iowa didn’t play the crisp brand of football it is known for. Four false starts by Iowa’s offense killed the momentum of drives. The team failed on its final five third-down conversion attempts.

Iowa had flashes of being a team that could compete for the Big Ten West, especially in a season where nobody knows what to expect. And that will show on film. On the scoreboard? Not so much.

“The bottom line in football is points,” Ferentz said. “We came up four short.”

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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