GOPHERS VS. IOWA 11 a.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City • TV: Big Ten Network.

Up-and-down Hawkeyes keep coach wondering what's next

  • Article by: Chip Scoggins
  • Star Tribune
  • November 8, 2007 - 8:58 PM

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said it's difficult to predict anything in his team's night-and-day season, one that has taken the Hawkeyes from total bust to the brink of bowl eligibility.

"I think we're a younger team than we would like to be," he said. "With youth sometimes comes inconsistency. We've certainly been the poster child for that mantra."

Iowa's 28-17 come-from-behind victory at Northwestern last week summed up the entire season. The Hawkeyes played like zombies in the first half, got chewed out at halftime and responded with a crisp second half that gave them their third victory in four games.

"That's the way it's been, which is better than no halves," Ferentz deadpanned. "We've tried that also."

Iowa began the season with modest expectations, even though neither Ohio State nor Michigan are on the schedule. The Hawkeyes followed a 2-0 start with a four-game losing streak that began with a loss to Iowa State and ultimately stretched their Big Ten losing skid to eight games, dating to last season.

"The frustrating part is that we were working hard and had a good attitude," senior tailback Albert Young said. "We just weren't getting the wins. But we never got down. We just felt it was a matter of time."

Some of the problems were understandable. The Hawkeyes lost three receivers and a tight end to either injuries or disciplinary suspensions. Add to that mix a first-year starting quarterback in sophomore Jake Christensen and an offensive line that starts three sophomores and one freshman, and the results have been predictably bad.

Iowa is last in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring offense, first downs, third-down conversions and sacks allowed. It is 10th in rushing and passing.

"You don't ever want to have a crutch, but the facts are we ended up being a much different offensive team by Week 3 than we were coming into camp," Ferentz said. "With that, you make adjustments and go with what you've got."

Luckily, the defense has been steady. Iowa ranks 18th nationally in scoring defense at 18.1 points per game and is 10th in turnover margin at plus-11.

Coaches and players also say the attitude remained positive despite all the losses and changes in personnel.

"We've always had good morale," defensive tackle Mitch King told Iowa reporters. "We've always had good locker room presence. We just weren't able to put together wins. For some reason, we just now started getting our butts in gear."

The Hawkeyes ended their losing streak against Illinois at home, but the real turning point came two weeks later when they rallied to defeat Michigan State 34-27 in double overtime.

Ferentz hoped his team would feed off the emotion of that victory last week at Northwestern. It took until the second half, but he got the desired result.

The Hawkeyes now need one more victory to become bowl eligible, although it might take a seventh victory to guarantee a bowl trip. With 10 Big Ten teams still alive in the bowl picture, a 6-6 record might not be good enough this season.

A lower-tier bowl game wasn't the preseason goal, but considering where they stood at the midway point, the Hawkeyes would gladly take it.

"One constant this team has had is, we've been totally inconsistent in most areas but we've been very constant with the attitude and work ethic," Ferentz said. "Every phase of the year has been fun. They're a fun group."

Chip Scoggins •

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