After 38-14 Loss to Penn State, How Is Iowa Hawkeyes' Season Reshaped?
As if the first half of the Iowa Hawkeyes' dismantling at the hands of Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) wasn't bad enough, it took me until the first Nittany Lion score of the second half to start hearing Rob Schneider's character from The Waterboy in my head.
"Oh no! We suck again!"
After a temporary high in the aftermath of crushing Minnesota 31-13 and upsetting Michigan State 19-16 in double-overtime, Iowa fans came crashing back to earth. The 2-0 start in Big Ten play? Deceptive. The back-to-back solid performances? Lost dreams.
Hawkeye fans woke up to find their team outclassed, outplayed and outcoached for four solid quarters. Nothing went right for Iowa, everything seemed to go right for Penn State, and the Hawkeyes were humiliated.
That's a sting that will last.
Last week, I stated that the Hawkeyes had the ability to run the table and potentially even win the conference. I stand behind those statements.
At the time I wrote that article, Iowa's offensive line was opening huge holes, Mark Weisman was plowing his way through them, the pass attack was picking up steam and the defense was starting to look like the Norm Parker defenses we used to know and love.
That Iowa team could beat everybody left on its schedule. It wouldn't be easy, and there would be some heart-thumping finishes, but it could do it.
Unfortunately, this isn't that Iowa team anymore.
I don't say that because I think this loss will demoralize them to the point of collapse or anything silly like that. Kirk Ferentz is too good a coach to allow that to happen. More importantly, the players are too good to let that happen.
If anything, this loss will wake them up and potentially make them a lot better. In the long run, this loss will make them all stronger. They won't forget this one as long as they live.
They won't forget the booing of the fans. They won't forget the way they were run over, thrown over and basically left laying in the cool Midwestern dust while their rivals from the East exacted a decade's worth of revenge on them.
I say it's not the same team because it's not. The Hawkeyes have likely lost offensive tackle Brandon Scherff for the season. Coach Ferentz announced Sunday that Scherff underwent surgery for a "lower leg injury."
That medical personnel choosing to put an air cast on his leg before loading him on the back of a Gator and carting him off suggests that said "lower leg injury" was a broken leg. At best, the Hawkeyes might get the young tackle back in time for a bowl game. Not before.
Making matters worse, shortly after Scherff went down, Andrew Donnal also suffered a significant injury. Right now, we don't know the extent of that injury or how long it will keep Donnal sidelined.
The impact was immediately felt on the field Saturday. The run game—which had seen limited effect even when Weisman was on the field—was pretty well shut down. The holes just weren't there.
The pass protection was decent most of the time, but Penn State blitzed mercilessly, and the makeshift line couldn't handle it.
What about Weisman? We got to see him in very limited action Saturday. He obviously was not the same runner we'd seen in prior weeks. The ankle injury wasn't healed completely, so it was no surprise that he couldn't make the cuts or find the power he'd used before with so much success.
How soon will he be back to 100 percent, though? We can make assumptions, but we don't really know. Eventually, he will return, but he'll be running behind a very different offensive line.
We also now know that this team is truly hot and cold. There have been glimpses of that from the beginning, but it was largely a subtle wavering with more consistent progress.
Saturday, it was a full step (or two) backward. There was nothing subtle about the lack of penetration by the defensive line. There was nothing subtle about the holes the Nittany Lions offensive line were generating or the big runs they were enjoying on an otherwise stiff defense.
There was nothing subtle about the way they used their tight ends (something Iowa used to do) to shred Iowa's secondary and poke huge holes in the zone defense.
There was nothing subtle about the way quarterback James Vandenberg struggled to put passes on target without putting them right in line for interceptions.
How do you begin to predict the season going forward? What will this team look like next week or the week after?
Those are very tough questions to answer.
They could recover remarkably. It wouldn't be completely unthinkable for the new line to come together, start creating holes for the run game and for the defense to make adjustments that will thwart future attacks similar to that of Penn State.
It's also possible that Saturday's thumping is a foreshadowing of things to come. Perhaps the road map has been created to beat the Hawkeyes, and beat them soundly.
Coming into Saturday, Iowa looked like an 8-4 team or even better. Saturday, it looked like a 5-7 team or even worse.
However it all ends up, one thing is certain: This team has been changed forever by the crushing defeat they suffered. Will it be for the better or for the worst?
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