IOWA CITY, Iowa – Shortly after the Iowa football team’s 23-21 loss to North Dakota State on Saturday, I was asked if I now believed in the mighty Bison.
It wasn’t a question about whether I believed in the Bison, but whether I thought a team’s of Iowa’s supposed ilk should lose to them at home, or any place for that matter.
My answer was no before the game and the same afterwards.
Iowa shouldn’t have lost on Saturday. I don’t care how many FCS national titles that North Dakota State has won in a row, which is currently five.
The Hawkeyes picked a horrible time to have a bad day at the office.
Iowa’s performance was marred by costly penalties, dropped passes, missed tackles and inaccurate throws.
You know it’s probably not a good day when your punter is the most outstanding performer, which was the case with Iowa senior punter Ron Coluzzi on Saturday.
“Coming into the game, we’ve really played clean football, sharp football in our first two games,” said Iowa coach kirk Ferentz. “That was not the case today. Those costly errors, those little detail things that we didn’t do well today ended up catching us at the end and made a big difference.
“The lesson there is if you do that against a good football team, you’re typically going to pay for it, and that was what happened today.”
Take away the errant snap that led to a loss of 16 yards on North Dakota State’s opening drive and its performance was close to perfect.
And it got me to thinking.
It’s too bad the NCAA couldn’t make an exception as a way to honor North Dakota State’s current dynasty by allowing the Bison to compete in the Big Ten for one season.
It would make for a fascinating journey to see if the Bison could rise to the challenge each Saturday despite facing some significant disadvantages.
How would a team with 20 fewer scholarships and a roster filled almost exclusively with players who didn’t have a scholarship offer from Iowa handle the Big Ten grind, which is now expanded to nine games?
Rising up to defeat one Big Ten opponent is one thing, an incredible accomplishment for any FCS team. But to do it more than once is another thing.
My guess is the Bison would finish near the middle of the Big Ten, or slightly above, They’d be capable of rising up and having a special double-digit win season every once in a while, but also a team capable of sinking to four or five wins in a season and having long stretches of being average.
What the Bison did on Saturday truly was spectacular, from its near flawless execution to its overall toughness and willing to scrap and take chances.
Iowa, on the other hand, showed that it was more vulnerable than probably most of us thought. Iowa’s inability to control the trenches, even without two key starters on the offensive line, was discouraging, deflating or whatever you want to call it.
But how much of that was the result of Iowa facing a team this past Saturday that seems capable of defeating anything that stands in its way except for perception?
Right now, you could argue that the only real difference between the current Iowa team and the 2009 Hawkeye squad, which finished 11-2 overall, is that the current team failed to block the game-winning field goal on Saturday, whereas the 2009 blocked two field goals in the final seconds to defeat a Northern Iowa squad that wasn’t as good as the team Iowa lost to on Saturday by a score of 17-16.
The close call against Northern Iowa was also the 2009 season opener, so that game was all we had to judge the Hawkeyes on for a week.
I vividly remember that week, too, how some fans assumed that Iowa was doomed in the wake of losing all-America running back Shonn Greene from the previous season.
How can a team that had to block two field goals to defeat Northern Iowa at home have any success against Big Ten competition was the question asked over and over?
But then Iowa pounded Iowa State 35-3 in Ames a week later and followed that with an impressive 27-17 victory over Arizona at Kinnick Stadium two weeks later.
The Hawkeyes only lost twice that season, with both losses coming without the services of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
So to dismiss the current Hawkeyes as being irrelevant after just one loss to a sports phenomenon is unfair and foolish given what we know about life under Ferentz.
The voters for the Associated Poll showed what they thought of Saturday’s loss by dropping Iowa from its rankings on Sunday after ranking the Hawkeyes 13th the previous week.
That says a lot about how the voters feels about Iowa, but maybe even more about how they feel about North Dakota State.
“As I said, the only value for us is if we learn, and we’ve got to grow, and we’ve been in this situation before in other years,” Ferentz said. “It’s September right now; the big thing is how we respond, what kind of improvement we can make on a daily basis and weekly basis.
“This will hurt for a while, and we’ll get back to work tomorrow and see what we can do about moving forward.”
That’s all they can do.
Fans and the media can obsess over the loss to North Dakota State because that’s what we do. But the Iowa players and coaches have the Big Ten schedule waiting for them, beginning with Iowa’s first game ever against Rutgers this coming Saturday in New Jersey.
The team has to get healthy and back to doing what it did consistently last season, which is run the ball with power and finesse.
If junior running back Akrum Wadley truly is healthy as Ferentz said Saturday, then shame on the coaches for not getting Wadley more than four carries. That just makes no sense under the circumstances, assuming Wadley is healthy.
But other than that, it’s just a matter of getting better.
Some fans are complaining that old Kirk resurfaced on Saturday in the fourth quarter by turning conservative and playing not to lose. They don’t understand why he tried to run on the first two plays of Iowa’s final drive.
My response to that is it would’ve been risky to throw on all three downs in a game in which the Iowa offensive line was struggling to protect quarterback C.J. Beathard.
And is it really asking too much from your running game to get one or two first downs against a defense that was battling the same fatigue?
It’s important to remember that seasons like a year ago when Iowa finished the regular season at 12-0 are few and far between. In Iowa’s case, it never had happened before.
So to expect a repeat would be foolish.
This is Iowa football under Ferentz. It’s unpredictably good and unpredictably bad at times.
But you should know by now that the situation rarely is as good or as bad as it seems under Ferentz.
That probably doesn’t make you feel any better right now, but it could help the way you feel down the road.