IOWA CITY, Iowa – Whenever the Iowa football team loses a game in which it was heavily favored, coming up with reasons for why it happened is part of the coping process for fans.
Hawkeye fans have been trying to make sense of what happened this past Saturday when 15-point underdog North Dakota State made a 37-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Iowa 23-21 at Kinnick Stadium.
It was bad enough that Iowa lost at home to a heavy underdog, but adding to the frustration and befuddlement is that North Dakota State competes at the FCS level.
It doesn’t matter that the Bison are in the midst of a dynasty and trying to win a sixth consecutive FCS national title. The general consensus with fans still seems to be that Iowa, ranked 13th nationally at the time, had no business losing this past Saturday.
Some of the reasons I’ve been told for why it happened make sense, while others are just silly, mean-spirited or clueless.
I decided to rank the reasons from best to worst in order to help with the coping process.
1. North Dakota State was the better team on Saturday: This is by far the most logical and sensible explanation that I’ve heard to explain what happened. The Bison played up to their potential, committing just one penalty and rushing for 239 yards, while Iowa performed far below its capabilities by committing costly penalties, dropping passes, missing blocks, missing tackles and missing open receivers.
You name it and the Hawkeyes struggled to do it against the Bison. That doesn’t mean the same thing would happen if they played again.
But it only takes one game and two teams performing at difference levels to create an upset.
2. North Dakota State was better than expected: You don’t win five national titles in any college sport by accident, let alone the second highest level of college football.
The Bison always will lose the battle of perception as an FCS team. They probably could win 15 national titles in a row, but it still wouldn’t change how they are perceived.
The voters in the Associated Press poll showed what they thought of Iowa’s loss by dropping the Hawkeyes out of this week’s top 25 after having them ranked 13th last week.
It is time to understand that the gap separating FBS teams from FCS teams has narrowed considerably in the wake of scholarship reductions over the past two decades.
Some of the current North Dakota State players probably would’ve been on Big Ten teams in the 1980s and 1990s when there were more scholarships to hand out.
3. Iowa couldn’t overcome missing two starters on the offensive line: There probably is some truth to that because junior guard Sean Welsh and sophomore center James Daniels are starters for a reason. Welsh is arguably Iowa’s most talented and valuable offensive lineman, considering his experience and ability to play multiple positions.
But on the other hand, neither Welsh nor Daniels play defense.
The Hawkeyes have struggled to stop the run in two of three games this season. That’s why missing two starters on the offensive line isn’t ranked higher on the list.
4. Iowa was too predictable on offense: My response to this is when is Iowa not predictable on offense?
Some fans and members of the media have questioned why Iowa tried to run on the first two plays of its final drive, which netted just one yard. The Hawkeyes tried to pass on third-and-long, but it ended with quarterback C.J. Beathard being sacked by a blitzing safety.
My guess for why Iowa tried to run on the first two plays is because that’s what Iowa does under Kirk Ferentz and because running the ball helps burn more time off the clock, whereas the clock stops with an incomplete pass.
It might have been a case in which Ferentz didn’t trust his depleted offensive line to protect Beathard in the pocket because Beathard had been a sitting duck throughout Saturday’s game.
If Beathard had been sacked on either first or second down and lost a fumble, Ferentz probably would’ve been criticized for not trusting his offensive line.
There have been numerous times under Ferentz when it was obvious what play Iowa was about to run based on either personnel or formation, but it still produced a positive result simply because the Hawkeyes executed the play properly.
5. Iowa didn’t blitz enough on defense: When does Iowa ever blitz with regularity on defense?
It rarely happened under previous defensive coordinator Norm Parker, nor is blitzing a priority with current defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
It is easy to say that Iowa should’ve blitzed more because that is considered a sign of being more aggressive. The problem with blitzing is there are fewer defenders to make a tackle if the quarterback escapes from the pocket.
And considering the way in which North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick shredded Iowa with his legs, blitzing might have caused more problems for the defense.
Instead of doing more blitzing, the Hawkeyes just needed to tackle better and take better angles of pursuit.
6. The North Dakota State players wanted it more: We’ve now entered into the absurd part of the list where a lack of execution gets mistaken for a lack of effort.
Why would the North Dakota State players want to win more than the Iowa players? Is it just because they play for an FCS school and live for opportunities like this past Saturday?
That just seems too easy, too convenient and is disrespectful to both teams.
7. Ferentz and his coaches are spoiled: You knew this was coming in the wake of Ferentz signing a new contract that gives him another decade of financial security.
His assistant coaches also received hefty raises, causing some to think that Ferentz’s staff is now spoiled and lacks motivation.
My response to that is you can’t be serious?
8. Iowa was looking past North Dakota State to the Big Ten opener at Rutgers on Saturday: I actually made this one up as a joke, but it’s no more ridiculous than questioning Iowa’s will to win or whether the coaches are still motivated.