There have been a lot of adjectives thrown around about Iowa's football team lately, many of them coming from the inside.
Disappointing. Lackluster. Confusing.
Following last week's stunning last-minute loss to Central Michigan, the 2-2 Hawkeyes -- who were coming off a sluggish end to 2011 -- have become the target of questions and implications of a great collapse. Where is the Iowa of old? Well, it's been tough to locate.
In the Hawkeyes' first four games, against less-heralded opponents, they squeaked by in their opener against Northern Illinois; managed just two field goals in a loss to Iowa State; expectedly beat Northern Iowa; and then fell apart late against Central Michigan, allowing a touchdown and then a field goal off a recovered onside kick in losing their second game of the season at Kinnick Stadium, site of Saturday's Big Ten opener against the Gophers.
"It's just stupid football," Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde said after the Central Michigan game.
Here's another adjective that's floating around: balanced. The Gophers are heading into the annual trophy game 4-0 and without the feeling of being a major underdog. Although Iowa is a 7 1/2-point favorite, the programs look to be converging instead of diverging.
This time, Iowa is the one with something major to prove. A Minnesota rally in the fourth quarter last season -- the Gophers' second consecutive victory over the Hawkeyes -- started a season-ending 2-4 slide.
With only 11 combined starters returning on offense and defense plus two new coordinators, 2012 figured to be somewhat of a rebuilding campaign. But that process isn't moving along in the manner in which Iowa is accustomed.
In their first couple games, the Hawkeyes looked stagnant on offense, putting up just 24 points in the two combined. Quarterback James Vandenberg -- a fifth-year senior who has been touted as the best pure passer in the league -- has completed just 58.6 percent of his attempts so far, with the team's receiving corps showing its inexperience.
"I think he's played well, but we haven't played well enough to win in two of them, and that's the way it is for James. That's the way it is for all our players, that's the way it is for our coaching staff," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's the reality of football, whether you win or lose you have to move past the previous weekend. You have to do two things: You have to focus on things you need to do better internally, and you have to focus on your opponents. ... Clearly we weren't prepared well enough last week, and we didn't play well enough as a result."
Iowa likely will be focusing on Minnesota more than ever, but there are a lot of things to tweak if it wants to retake the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
Ferentz has talked about communication issues in the first few games, something that can be tough to overcome. So, too, are the nine penalties the Hawkeyes committed against Central Michigan. Walk-on fullback Mark Weisman has emerged as a fan favorite and has put up big numbers -- six touchdowns in the past two games -- but the offense needs some versatility to get by a Gophers defense that shut down Syracuse last week and is gaining confidence by the day.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill, for one, said he doesn't expect to be surprised by the product that comes marching out at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
"Everybody goes, 'What's Iowa look like?' They look just like Iowa always looks like. Big, strong, physical, come downhill, hit you in the mouth."
Lately, though, they've been getting hit back an awful lot.