Opinion | The Big Ten West is wide open, but Iowa isn’t part of the race

Two close losses in two weeks are costly for the Hawkeyes in an eight-game regular season.


Katie Goodale

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz are seen without masks during the Iowa v Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 21-20. Many Iowa Coaches wore Gaitor face guards, which the CDC has suggested is not as effective against the spread of COVID-19 as a regular mask.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Big Ten West is a mess. The same can be said about Iowa through two weeks of the season.

The division is as open as it could be. Wisconsin could be sidelined for weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Minnesota is clearly not the team it was last year and sits at 0-2. Nebraska and Illinois likely aren’t going anywhere, despite what one of those fan bases might say.

At the top of the standings in the West right now are Northwestern and Purdue. Both teams are 2-0. Both teams beat Iowa. And Iowa should have beaten both teams.

Despite the excitement surrounding this year’s Iowa team, the Hawkeyes sit at 0-2. In an eight-game regular season, that’s tough to overcome.

Iowa appeared ready to take control over Purdue, until a Mekhi Sargent fumble set up a game-winning drive by the Boilermakers. Against Northwestern, an early 17-0 apparently wasn’t enough as Iowa lost 21-20 at Kinnick Stadium.

“They finished the game and we weren’t able to,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said following the Northwestern game. “That’s kind of where it’s at right now … We certainly have a lot of improvement to make, and that’s got to be our focus.”

The Boilermakers and the Wildcats finished in the bottom two spots of the West last season, combining to go 7-17. Both seem to be much improved this season, but that’s not an excuse for blowing two games.

A theme the past two weeks, and longer than that, has been Iowa’s offense shutting down in the second half. The team’s final seven drives of the game proved costly: Three punts, three interceptions, and a turnover on downs.

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Iowa’s only two touchdowns of the day came after Northwestern fumbled deep in its own territory. But those mistakes by The Wildcats didn’t continue, and neither did the Hawkeyes’ scoring.

Iowa is lacking an identity on offense right now. The Hawkeyes ran the ball on 26 times in a close game against the Wildcats and quarterback Spencer Petras threw 50 passes.

“I think if you look historically, if you look at those kinds of numbers, it means the outcome wasn’t good,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t run the ball effectively enough. Certainly, we had a couple good runs, hit on a couple of them, but with consistency not enough. So that’s something we’re going to have to get addressed because we don’t want to play that way. I’ll go on record saying that — we don’t want to play that way. Looking for a lot more balance than that.”

The Hawkeyes averaged only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. Tyler Goodson had only 13 carries the entire game. Northwestern, for the most part, wasn’t much better on the ground. The Wildcats averaged 2.4 yards per rush.

But Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey, even though it was a quiet day for him on the stat sheet, showed the poise Petras lacked.

It’s been the same story for Iowa in two different weeks.

This season should be a prime opportunity for Iowa to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game. But the season already seems to be unraveling — both on and off the field.

Two close, ugly losses to start the season has the team behind in the standings. The arrest of star wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette on Sunday for operating while intoxicated is unacceptable, and he will be suspended for at least one game.

There are still six weeks remaining in the Big Ten regular season. It’s 2020, so anything could happen in the race for the Big Ten West. But right now, Iowa isn’t part of that race. And there’s a long way to go before it is.

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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