The Hawkeyes are a young squad, after all. They have nowhere to go but up.
The loss leaves Iowa's bowl prospects uncertain. The Hawkeyes (6-6, 4-4) will have to wait to hear from bowl sponsors—and hope that the seniors can get one last crack at a win.
The Hawkeyes will take a week off for Thanksgiving Break before getting back to work on Monday November 26th.
“I don’t want to let this one loss diminish any of the positive things that happened in the last six weeks,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game. “Hopefully we can find ways we can improve; it is our jobs to try and find things we can do better.”
Iowa's usually solid ball protection slipped against Western Michigan. The Hawkeyes committed three turnovers, including two uncharacteristic interceptions from quarterback Jake Christensen.
The sophomore QB had thrown only four picks all season before Saturday, against 17 touchdowns.
“It wasn’t the hugest factor in the game, but it played into the game no question,” Ferentz said of the turnovers. “We go through the season doing a pretty good job of protecting the football and getting the takeaways, then we don’t have a takeaway today and we did turn it over. We made it easier for them to get points as a result of it.”
Given the team's injury woes, it's hard to be disappointed with a .500 record. The Hawkeyes' 3-2 performance down the stretch was a particularly marked improvement over last year, when they finished 1-5 and lost to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
And if nothing else, the strong finish promises better things to come.
However the bowl picture shakes out, Iowa has a young team with plenty of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
One rising star is junior tight end Brandon Myers, who took over for the injured Tony Moeaki midway through the season. Myers caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, proving again that he's a legitimate target.
On the season, Myers has 208 yards and five touchdowns.
“I think I have had more of an opportunity to make plays,” Myers said of his 2007 performance. “When a guy like Moeaki goes down, obviously somebody has to step in. It is tough when somebody of that caliber goes down. I just had to do whatever I could to help the team.”
With running backs Damian Sims and Albert Young and fullback Tom Busch all graduating, Iowa may look to pass more in 2008—and why not, when the Hawkeyes will have Moeaki and WR Andy Brodell back in action?
A Moeaki-Myers combination will hearken memories of the Moeaki-Scott Chandler tandem Iowa employed in 2006. A duo like that would take a lot of pressure off Christensen.
“I thought he (Myers) played really well today,” Ferentz said. “We saw last December he is one of the several guys that took a positive step as a player even though he wasn’t on the field a lot with Tony (Moeaki) and Scott (Chandler) out there...We hope to have a great tandem there with those two guys next year.
At receiver, the Hawkeyes have relied on a host of freshman. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has become a household name since stepping in for the injured Brodell. James Cleveland has responded well to pressure in emerging as the group's leader.
Other key youngsters include kicker Daniel Murray and punter Ryan Donahue, both freshman.
Donahue broke an Iowa record Saturday when he punted for the 86th time of the season. He's also first in Iowa history with an 82-yard punt.
Murray has been shaky at times, but has proven to be solid more often than not.
On the whole, the Hawkeyes have improved since the beginning of the season, and will continue to build on that success. Bowl bid or not, the future looks bright.
“We were 8-0 in the conference in 2002,” Ferentz said. “We would love to be 8-0 every year but the reality is that is not how it works typically, at least it hasn’t in this conference. So you deal with your situation and hope you are moving forward. I think we are moving forward and that is the positive news.”