IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kirk Ferentz has mentioned more than once in his 18 seasons as Iowa’s coach that his program doesn’t have much margin for error.
Last week’s stunning loss to North Dakota State showed that it wasn’t just coach speak.
The Hawkeyes (2-1) went unbeaten in the regular season in 2015 largely because they always seemed to do the little things well. A team like Iowa, which prides itself on taking undervalued recruits and turning them into smart, focused and disciplined starters, can’t afford to be sloppy and hope to win.
Never was that more apparent than against the Bison.
Iowa lost two starting offensive linemen to injuries and suddenly couldn’t run the ball.
Penalties, dropped passes and errant throws allowed the five-time defending FCS champions to hang around. A crucial late sack —on a blitz that quarterback C.J. Beathard said his line should’ve picked up — helped the Bison get the ball back with just enough time to steal a victory.
“It wasn’t like we came out and we weren’t focused or we weren’t ready to go. Because I think we were,” Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said. “Just momentary lapses in our attention to detail…got to us.”
Iowa will likely soon get some help in that regard, as both guard Sean Welsh and center James Daniels — two of its best linemen — are expected back for Saturday’s game at Rutgers (2-1).
But the Hawkeyes believe it won’t matter much unless they get back to the focus that made them so tough to beat a year ago.
We need to “rally around each other and get what we had last year going,” offensive lineman Ike Boettger said.
To be fair, a lot of Power Five teams might have suffered a similar fate against the Bison, which has a host of FBS-level players who’ve come to expect to win against any team.
Iowa has some really good players, too.
But many of them simply didn’t play well last weekend.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard was uncharacteristically off, missing more than a few open receivers. Drops hurt Beathard as well, including one in the open field by Akrum Wadley — whose long TD reception on Sept. 10 helped fuel a rout of Iowa State.
George Kittle, who has developed a reputation as one of the nation’s top blocking tight ends, was called for a hold on the first play of the second half. The penalty negated a 62-yard run that left Iowa just three yards from a touchdown that would’ve put it ahead 21-7.
Beathard said Iowa’s offense committed 17 of what the coaching staff calls “mental mistakes” last week after combining for just 10 in the first two games.
“The bottom line is, we didn’t play clean football,” Ferentz said. “The most glaring thing in my mind was just not dealing well with the makeable (plays)…which to me are plays that should be able to execute without having a superstar-type player.”
The Hawkeyes can forget about the playoffs for now. The Big Ten West remains as open as ever though, and Iowa remains among the favorites.
That will change if the Hawkeyes keep playing like they did a week ago.
“Everything was correctable on the field. It’s just whether or not you want to…be more ready for the game. Some people just have to put more time into it maybe, and watch more film and be able to understand what the offense is running,” linebacker Josey Jewell said.
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