Though it wasn't pretty, and was often a microcosmic view of the way this season has gone, the Insight Bowl had a good deal to tell the fans about what to expect from the 2012 Iowa Hawkeyes.
In the end, the Hawks lost 14-31 to Oklahoma, though the score makes it appear that it was easier for OU than it was.
Not to take anything away from the Sooners, but it occasionally seemed like it was less a matter of Oklahoma winning and more a matter of Iowa losing.
Of course, all credit goes to Oklahoma for forcing Iowa to shoot itself in the foot.
Now that 2011 is over for the Hawkeyes, it is worth looking at the bowl and asking what it says about next season.
Needless to say, we can only hope that the Hawks' top two running backs, both of who were suspended for the bowl, will also be part of the equation in 2012.
But one can only hope.
Marvin McNutt didn't have a great game, but I'll come back to that later.
On the other hand, Mike Daniels was amazing. He owned a center—Ben Habern—that is expected to go in the third or fourth round of the draft, and a guard—Stephen Good—expected to go in the fifth or sixth. If only he had been healthy all year.
With no experienced defensive tackles left in the lineup, his absence will be the biggest hole the Hawks have to fill next season.
Broderick Binns and Tyler Nielsen were also solid, and Shaun Prater had his best game of 2011.
The true freshman had all of nine carries and 14 touches during the regular season.
His first bowl performance may not have had the fireworks that Marcus Coker's had last season. Furthermore, he was far from perfect—too many backwards plays—and it was evident how much the Hawkeyes missed Coker.
Nonetheless, Canzeri handled his responsibilities, took care of the football and showed he had some moves.
He'll be a great lightning to Marcus Coker's thunder next season, especially with another 10-15 pounds on his frame.
Overall, the big uglies played a solid game.
Oklahoma brought the house, and the Hawks consistently held them up.
Iowa gave up three sacks, but frankly, only one-and-a-half of them were on the line.
Unfortunately, at least two of the starting linemen and probably three—I don't foresee Riley Reiff hanging around an extra year—will not be in Iowa City next year.
On the surprising and bright side, sophomore Brett Van Sloten played well, subbing for a cramping Markus Zusevics late in the game.
This bodes well for next season.
The Polish Hat showed marked improvement from his play during the regular season.
At 6'7", 270 pounds, he's always been a mismatch nightmare, but he showed better blitz recognition and blocking than he has in any previous game.
He finished the Insight Bowl with four receptions for 23 yards and one touchdown.
He will be JVB's go-to guy next year.
Speaking of JVB, his inconsistency is maddening, and at this point in his career—his 15th start and fourth year in the Iowa system—it is unacceptable.
His split regular season numbers demonstrate how inconsistent he has been.
JVB's 2011 Stats vs. Unranked Teams: 8 G, 65 PCT, 2,022 YDS, 9.1 YPA, 20 TD, 2 INT, 168.99 passer efficiency rating
JVB's 2011 Stats vs. Ranked teams: 4 G, 50.4 PCT, 784 YDS, 5.7 YPA, 3 TD, 4 INT. 99.83 passer efficiency rating
JVB's 2011 Home Game Stats: 7 G, 61.4 PCT, 1,798 YDS, 8.7 YPA, 17 TD, 3 INT, 158.51 passer efficiency rating
JVB's 2011 Away Game Stats: 5 G, 56.9 PCT, 1,008 YDS, 6.6 YPA, 6 TD, 3 INT, 121.22 passer efficiency rating
His play during the Insight Bowl was a microcosmic look into his season.
Through the first 40 minutes his numbers were: 45.5 PCT, 104 YDS, 4.73 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT, 76.07 passer efficiency rating. He also took two sacks, one of which was partly on him. His best play up to that point was a 15-yard scamper on a key third down. The Hawks didn't score any points during that stretch.
At that point, he caught fire. His stats on three key drives between the third and fourth quarter were: 75 PCT, 127 YDS, 6.35 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 161.34 passer efficiency rating. He took one sack, which was wholly on him. Iowa put up 14 points through the three drives.
In Iowa's final drive—during which the Hawks were in their abysmal two-minute offense—Vandy failed to complete a pass.
His final, composite numbers on the day were: 52.3 PCT, 216 YDS, 4.90 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, 103.96 passer efficiency rating.
He feels phantom pressure, locks on to targets, rushes throws, hangs his receivers out to dry, is often clueless at the line of scrimmage and occasionally, has accuracy issues.
In the end, he was no better against Oklahoma than he was in the second game of the season against Iowa State.
That lack of improvement is problematic and does not bode well for next season.
JVB's receivers didn't do much to help him.
For the most part, Marvin McNutt was owned by OU cornerback Jemell Fleming.
Even worse, I counted four drops by Keenan Davis, plus one each by McNutt and Kevonte Martin-Manley.
As previously mentioned, JVB hung them out to dry on a couple of those plays, but a receiver has to catch every ball he can get his hands on. End of story.
"Let's go for it."
"Nah, let's not."
This is what I imagine Kirk Ferentz's inner dialogue sounded like at the end of the first half.
Ferentz is infamous for wasting possessions at the end of the half, preferring to take whatever score he has into the locker room rather than risking a turnover.
In this case, it seemed like he couldn't commit to trying to score, and he couldn't commit to sitting on the ball.
In effect, at the Iowa 17-yard line with 100 seconds remaining in the half, Ferentz ran it on the first play from scrimmage. Running back Jason White gained seven yards. This led the observer to assume Ferentz was going with his usual tendencies.
Nope. Instead, he immediately lined up his offense, and...
...he ran the ball again.
Yes, White gained four yards, and the Hawks got the first down, thereby stopping the clock. However, 55 seconds had bled off the clock by the time Ferentz committed to passing and genuinely trying to score.
If he was committed to trying to score, he had to commit to it and call plays accordingly. If not, then commit to it and sit on the ball.
But "sort of" trying to score is a commitment to nothing.
Last week, Hawkeye defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left Iowa City for the same position in Lincoln.
In effect, the Hawks were allowed to bring in a temporary position coach.
That position coach was LeVar Woods.
Woods was a Hawkeye starting linebacker from 1998-2000. He has worked as an Iowa administrative assistant since 2008.
Last season, when defensive coordinator Norm Parker was out with health issues, Woods filled in for him.
Against Oklahoma, the defensive line played its best game of the season—that's right, Kaczenski—and, assuming Woods had something to do with that, Hawkeye fans can expect Woods to have a permanent spot on the Iowa coaching staff next season.
Unlike in-season games, the Hawkeyes had three weeks to prepare for this matchup. They had three weeks to get healthy, study tape and get their timing just right.
Yet, the offense made multiple mental mistakes, took a number of penalties that a "prepared" team had no business taking and the passing game looked out of sync.
The offense that showed up in the first half looked like the offense one would expect in Weeks 1 through 4 of the college football season, not the bowl game.
It's easy to blame the quarterback—who deserves his fair share of blame—but this lack of preparedness and overall mediocrity has become something Hawkeye fans expect out of its offense.
In other words, this is bigger than the individual players.
Jon Miller, at Hawkeyenation.com, goes over it in detail, but consider the individual parts of the 2011 offense.
This incarnation of the Hawkeye offense boasted the greatest individual receiver in Iowa football history.
It also boasted what was statistically the fourth-best performance by an individual running back in Iowa history.
Finally, James Vandenberg threw for the fourth-most total yardage any Iowa quarterback has ever thrown in a single season. He threw 25 touchdowns to six interceptions, and was the third-most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten this year.
Yet, as those of us that have watched the Hawks this season know, the offense was mediocre at best when it mattered.
Those pieces don't fit together, and it is not an anomaly. It is something Iowa has always struggled with under Kirk Ferentz—outside of 2002—and it speaks of a problem that is inherent within the system.
If Ferentz fails to address this problem this offseason, I expect the Hawks will struggle to win six games next year.
Even worse, if he fails to address this, I expect the program will begin to slip from mediocrity and stagnancy to the rear of a conference that is growing increasingly more competitive.
Not much to say here.
The defense wasn't stellar, but it did what it needed to do to win. As usual.
Oklahoma was the fourth-best total offense in the country during the regular season. It averaged 532.1 YPG.
Iowa held it to 275 yards, plus one turnover.
The Sooners held a 19.8-yard advantage in field position.
Seven of Oklahoma's 31 points were given up in garbage time. Another seven came via an interception and penalty that gave OU the ball inside the 10.
That should have been more than enough to win.
Chalk one more up as a well-coached, well-planned defensive game.
If only Hawk fans could expect half as much from the offense.
Norm will be dearly missed.