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Hawkeyes take unexpected nose dive

  • Article by: Chip Scoggins
  • Star Tribune
  • October 4, 2007 - 11:02 PM

What has happened to Iowa?

The darlings of the Big Ten a few years ago, the Hawkeyes have lost seven consecutive Big Ten games and are 2-8 in their past 10 conference games.

Iowa fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten with a stunning 38-20 loss at home to Indiana last week. It was the Hawkeyes' third consecutive loss overall and led one reporter to ask coach Kirk Ferentz if his program is "unstable" right now.

"Call it whatever you want," Ferentz said. "But I don't think anybody's ready to throw in the towel right now. I haven't gotten that sense."

The Hawkeyes, who don't face Michigan or Ohio State this season, have a first-year starting quarterback and have been hit unusually hard by injuries. But few expected them to struggle like this.

They rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, first downs, third-down conversions and sacks allowed. They are 10th in rushing and ninth in passing.

Things could get worse, too. In the next four weeks, the Hawkeyes play at Penn State, Illinois, at Purdue and Michigan State.

"There are challenges in every situation," Ferentz said. "This is a challenge. I'm not dismissing that. But I think we're up for the challenge."

Checking the line

Wisconsin's defense has been surprisingly suspect through five games, and the Badgers haven't dominated their opponents the way most expected. But the fact that the fifth-ranked Badgers enter Saturday's game at Illinois as a 2½-point underdog raised eyebrows around the league.

"I think that's ludicrous," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I think that's probably somebody from Wisconsin trying to get them upset or fired up because I don't think there's any way possible a team like us can be favored over a team like Wisconsin."

Well, it happened, which probably is a reflection of Illinois' improvement (4-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) and Wisconsin's closer-than-expected victories.

Wisconsin's average margin of victory is 9.8 points. The Badgers were expected to be stout defensively, but they rank ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema said he is concerned about his defense, but he insists he doesn't care about style points or point spreads.

"Everybody is entitled to their opinions," he said. "The bottom line is we have been able to complete five ballgames this year all with wins at the end of the game. It may not be as clean as everybody wants."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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