IOWA CITY, Iowa – Recent history says that maybe we should have seen this kind of performance coming from the Iowa football team.
It has been quite a while since Iowa has sustained a high level of success under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Not since the historical three-year stretch from 2002-04 has Iowa won double-digit games in consecutive seasons.
Twitter wasn’t even around back then and most of the nation hadn’t heard of a rising politician named Barack Obama.
The fact that Iowa is 3-2 right now and failing to meet lofty expectations might just be a cruel reminder of what Iowa football truly is under Ferentz, and under every Iowa head coach not named Forest Evashevski.
Hayden Fry rescued the Iowa program from two decades of losing and humiliation, becoming a legend along the way.
But he also had some seasons that left much to be desired.
Having success is one thing at Iowa. Sustaining success is another.
Evashevski did it for a five-year stretch from 1956-60, but it was one-platoon football back then, so he didn’t need as many players.
Each team is unique and ultimately defines itself.
Iowa returned more than half of the starters from last season’s 12-2 team, but the current team still is different than a year ago, as our the circumstances, including the senior leadership.
Nobody outside of the devoted and delusional Hawkeye fans expected much from last season’s team, while the current team was expected to conquer the world, or at least the Big Ten West Division for the second consecutive year.
We failed to take into consideration with the current team that momentum has been fleeting for Iowa over the years. This could just be the law of averages evening out for a program that has averaged 7 1/2 victories per season under Ferentz.
Just when you think the Hawkeyes have established residency with the elite, they slip back to being middle class or average.
Many thought the program had become elite again after Iowa finished 9-4 in 2008 and 11-2 in 2009, while also winning back-to-back January bowl games.
The 2010 team was loaded on paper and 5-1 after six games. But then really without warning, it unraveled down the stretch, losing its final three Big Ten games to Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota by a combined 10 points.
Iowa then combined for a 26-25 record over the next four seasons from 2011-14 before winning a school-record 12 games last season.
There almost always is a fine line between winning and losing for a developmental program like Iowa. A few good breaks here and few bad breaks there could the difference between finishing 12-2 or 7-6.
Iowa rarely has enough talent to overcome a lack of execution, injuries or bad luck.
Maybe we should have expected C.J. Beathard to also regress because it has been a while since Iowa has flourished behind a senior quarterback.
Iowa finished 4-8 in James Vandenberg’s senior season in 2012.
Ricky Stanzi was the starting quarterback as a senior in 2010 when Iowa finished a disappointing 8-5 that season.
Drew Tate was a three-year starter as a senior in 2006, but he struggled with injuries for a team that finished 6-7 and struggled with attitude problems. Ferentz coined the phrase "fat cats" to describe a feeling of self-entitlement that apparently festered on the 2006 team.
Nathan Chandler was the last senior quarterback to lead Iowa to a double-digit win season in 2003 when the Hawkeyes finished 10-3.
The narrative on Beathard is that he hasn’t been nearly as effective as last season when his moxie seemed contagious and his timing seemed impeccable. Beathard is being criticized for hanging on to the football for too long in the pocket. He has been sacked at least twice in every game this season, including six times in Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Northwestern.
But if you compare his passing statistics after five games to last season, there isn’t much of a difference. Beathard has passed for 945 yards and nine touchdowns after five games this season, along with being intercepted twice.
He had 1,039 passing yards and seven touchdowns after five games last season, to go along with being intercepted twice.
One of the best things Beathard did Saturday was make the entire team accountable. He didn’t point fingers or make excuses on a day when some did.
“We just have to play better team football as a whole,” Beathard said. “There is no reason to point at any spot because right now we’re just not playing well in any aspect of our game and we’ve got to get better in every part of our game.
“We just have to figure out what we’re not doing well enough right now. There is a fine line between winning and losing games. And right now, we’ve lost two. We’re on that losing side and we’ve got to figure it out and watch the film and correct things. We’re all in it together and we’ve got to focus on that.”
And they might not figure it out.
This team could go in three directions with seven conference games remaining, including Saturday’s game at Minnesota.
It could rebound like the 2008 team did when it finished 9-4 after being 3-3 at the midway point of the season.
It could fall apart like the 2012 team did when it was 2-2, but then only won two more games.
Or it could hover around .500 and finish with six or seven victories like Iowa did in 2011 and 2014, winning seven games in both seasons.
One of the strangest things about this season is Iowa’s inability to stop the run despite having three returning starters on the defensive line, the same starting middle linebacker in Josey Jewell and the same defensive line coach as last season in the highly respected Reese Morgan.
It has been suggested that Iowa is suffering from the loss of former linebacker coach Jim Reid, who left shortly after last season to become the defensive coordinator at Boston College.
No disrespect to Reid because he did have a lot of energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. But it’s hard to believe that he had that much influence on the rush defense.
This goes beyond losing one position coach or three starters from last season’s defense.
“Obviously, we all feel like we’re better than the records shows right now,” said sophomore receiver Jay Scheel. “We’ve got to eliminate the mental mistakes. We’re leaving a lot of plays out on the field.
“So if we can just work on ourselves and improve what we need to do, then we can make strides.”
Some fans insist that the problems with the current team are obvious and so are the ways to fix it. Iowa has to play with more sense of urgency, with more creativity and with more passion say fans.
But fans said the same things in previous seasons when Iowa has struggled.
It is ridiculous to bury this team or to suggest that even making a bowl game is now beyond reach with seven conference games still remaining.
Iowa has proved our assumptions wrong many times before, either by exceeding or failing to meet expectations.
But what Iowa hasn’t done is sustain a high-level success.
So maybe this is just the painful part of a pattern being repeated.