By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football team is 4-2 for the eighth time in 19 seasons under Kirk Ferentz.
What that means halfway through the season and heading into a bye week is anybody's guess because history shows that the final results can be vastly different.
I picked Iowa to be 4-2 at this stage, but to finish just 6-6 overall with the toughest part of the schedule still to come, although, the first part of the schedule looks stronger than it did barely 24 hours ago, thanks to Michigan State and Iowa State.
Some Hawkeye fans might not want to hear this, but Iowa State’s success from this point on is your success, too.
The Cyclones stole the spotlight on Saturday by shocking the college football world with a 38-81 upset at Oklahoma, while Iowa struggled for three quarters to put away a young and vulnerable Illinois squad 45-16 at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa State’s improbable victory now makes Iowa’s 44-41 overtime win on Sept. 9 in Ames look better on paper.
The same with Michigan State’s 14-10 victory at Michigan on Saturday. It doesn’t make Iowa’s sloppy performance against the Spartans the week before look any better, but does suggest that Iowa was up against more than we previously had thought.
But as previously mentioned, history shows that Iowa is capable of just about anything after being 4-2.
The 2004 squad went from being 4-2 to 10-2, while the 2012 squad did just the opposite by finishing 4-8.
The current team appears to be somewhere in the middle. .
Ferentz was asked to grade his team after Saturday’s victory, but that’s just not his thing.
“Probably the last time I gave grades out was when I was at Worcester Academy, unfortunately,” Ferentz said of his days as a teacher in the late 1970s. “I might be the only line coach in the history of line coaches - I never gave grades to our players because all they want to do is argue about them, and I want them to watch the film and learn from the film, and let's talk instead of looking at the sheet and picky and all that stuff.
“There's always room for improvement, but I felt like we grew today. It was tough in the first half, and credit goes to Illinois, they came in here to win a football game, and they did a lot of really good things. But I thought as things, as we pressed on and pushed on we kept playing. That's one thing this team has done pretty well for six games. They keep playing. They keep fighting out there.”
“But we'll start all over again here two weeks from today, next time we tee it up. It's going to be a new adventure. Every game is a little different story. The biggest thing we have to do is just keep working forward, and every guy can improve, and that's been the mantra all the way through. At least this week I think we took a positive step.”
Iowa’s next game is against Northwestern on Oct. 21 in Evanston, Ill.
The Wildcats hung with Penn State for a while this past Saturday before losing 31-7 at home to fall to 2-3 overall.
If you think Iowa is inconsistent and hard to read, Northwestern is even more up and down and enigmatic.
Following the Northwestern game, Iowa will face Minnesota (Oct. 28) and Ohio State (Nov. 4) at Kinnick Stadium before traveling to Wisconsin (Nov. 11) then returning home to face Purdue (Nov. 18) and closing the regular season at Nebraska on Black Friday.
There isn’t another team like Illinois on the schedule in terms of being overmatched.
Purdue was thought to be like that when the season started, but first-year coach Jeff Brohm is orchestrating a stunning turnaround, the latest proof being Saturday’s 31-17 victory over Minnesota, which improved Purdue’s record to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers never won more than three games under previous head coach Darrell Hazell and combined to win just nine games in four seasons from 2013 to 2016.
As for the Hawkeyes, they’ve been about as good as advertised, considering Las Vegas had them at 6.5 wins, and the folks in Vegas usually know what they’re talking about.
“The bye wek is crucial,” said Iowa senior linebacker Bo Bower. “We’re going to be practicing and we’re going to try and get better playing Iowa football.”
Perhaps the most befuddling thing about Iowa after six games has been its inability to assert its physicality in the trenches on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but especially on offense where Iowa’s vaunted power rushing attack has been more miss than hit under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and new offensive line coach Tim Polasek.
Sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley will finish with 30 touchdown passes and just four interceptions if in the last six games he matches what he did in the first six games. Stanley hardly is a finished product, but you don’t throw 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in six games by accident, or as a fluke.
The Wisconsin native should benefit from the return of injured running back James Butler, who is expected to be healthy enough to play against Northwestern game.
Akrum Wadley also should benefit from Butler’s return because it’ll make the offense more diversified and allow for Wadley to play more in the slot where space is more accessible.
And speaking of returns, defensive back Brandon Snyder provided a huge lift on Saturday with regard to emotion and performance.
His 89-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter came less than six months after Snyder had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It now looks as if Snyder and sophomore Amani Hooker will start at the two safety positions after senior strong safety Miles Taylor was benched against Illinois.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker has had a quick hook with his defensive backs this season, considering three have been benched during a game.
Injuries have certainly been a factor this season, especially on the offensive line where senior right tackle Ike Boettger suffered a season-ending Achilles tear against Iowa State.
But injuries are always a factor and Iowa’s situation could be a lot worse.
And in addition to that, true freshman right tackle Tristan Wirfs also made his first career start on Saturday and performed well for the most part.
It’s hard to picture Iowa exceeding expectations if the rushing statistics on both sides of the line of scrimmage don’t improve.
My pick for 6-6 looks more accurate now compared to when Iowa was 3-0 heading into conference play.
The team is pretty much what I expected from a record standpoint, but how it reached that record from a style and performance standpoint hardly is what I expected.
Iowa is 4-2 for the eighth time under Kirk Ferentz. Here is a look at how the previous seven teams finished
2001 - 7-5, 4-4
2004 - 10-2, 7-1
2005 - 7-5, 5-3
2011 - 7-6, 4-4
2012 - 4-8, 2-6
2013 - 8-5, 5-3
2016 - 8-5, 6-3
2017 - 4-2, 1-2