Frustration starting to show as Iowa's once-promising season begins to unravel

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Purdue fans celebrate Saturday's 38-36 victory over Iowa at sold-out Ross-Ade Stadium

By Pat Harty

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Kirk Ferentz suffered his 100th loss as the Iowa football coach on Saturday at Purdue, but unlike the previous 99 losses, he didn’t just congratulate the opponent and say it was time to move on.

Ferentz was visibly upset with some of the calls that were made late in the game that helped Purdue escape with a 38-36 victory before a sellout crowd of 60,716 at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Ferentz took issue with a pass interference call on freshman cornerback Julius Brents that gave Purdue a first down at the Iowa 16-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

That penalty helped to set up a 25-yard game-winning field goal by Spencer Evans with 8 seconds remaining.

"It looked like a clean play to me," Ferentz said. "It looked like a ball overthrown. I don't mind telling you it was a little frustrating for everybody."

Ferentz also seemed upset about two holding penalties that were called on Iowa during its final drive of the game that ultimately stalled with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left to play.

One was called on offensvie lineman Keegan Render, while the other was called on running back Mekhi Sargent, who was trying to quell a blitzing defender. Render's penalty was highly questionable, but Sargent appeared to grab and hold the Purdue defender. 

Purdue then took possession at the 50-yard and marched to the Iowa 7 to set up the game-winning field goal.

“The last possessions both went in different directions and officiating probably factored into both of them,” Ferentz said. “But that’s part of football and you live with that, too.

“So I don’t know. I think our team played extremely hard and played through the finish and I don’t know what else they could have done there.”

What Iowa could’ve done throughout Saturday’s game is play better on defense, especially with regard to defending the pass.

Purdue quarterback David Blough completed 23-of-32 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, including three to receiver Terry Wright.

Blough also was sacked just once by an Iowa defense that entered Saturday’s game ranked second in the conference in total defense, allowing just 264.9 yards per game.

The Boilermakers had 244 yards in the first half alone and they scored on an 82-yard pass from Blough to Wright on their play from scrimmage in the third quarter.

“We knew coming in they had a really solid quarterback and some really explosive guys on the outside,” said Iowa free safety Jake Gervase. “But, obviously, it hurts giving up 38 points. We didn’t play our best game. I feel bad for the offense. I thought they played real well. They put up a lot of points and didn’t have any turnovers.

“So that falls on us. It falls on the whole defense. It falls on the secondary in particular giving up those explosive plays. And that falls on me. I’m accountable for it. I’m the senior guy in that room. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing our game plan.”

Iowa fell to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten with just three conference games remaining.

The Hawkeyes could defeat Northwestern next Saturday at Kinnick Stadium and still be one game behind the Wildcats in the Big Ten West Division standings.

Wisconsin and Purdue are also one game ahead of Iowa in the West Division standings and they both hold the tie-breaker with a victory over Iowa.

So maybe that explains why Ferentz was so frustrated after Saturday’s loss because it was so costly from the big picture standpoint.

“The bottom line is we’re going to have to find a way to get back up on our feet tomorrow and move forward,” Ferentz said. “We’ve still got three games and they’re a good football team and these guys have been putting a lot of good effort out there since January.

“And we’ll get back up on our feet and get working to move forward starting tomorrow.”

Ferentz was asked if he felt that the officiating leaned one way or the other.

Iowa was penalized eight times for 75 yards, while Purdue was called for six penalties that totaled 60 yards.

“That’s just the way it is,” Ferentz said. “We go 55 minutes without a holding call and we get two in there. It’s unfortunate.”

There were some questionable calls on Saturday, but the officials didn’t cost Iowa the game.

Purdue’s explosive offense had more to do with Iowa losing than anything else.

“We need to figure out what we’re doing and what’s going on,” said Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. “Losses don’t happen by accident. There is something going on during the week that we need to figure out and fix it.”

Hockenson didn’t get any more specific than that, but what he said was alarming. You have to be concerned any time a player says there is something going on during the week that has to be fixed.

Hockenson's comment might just be part of the stench from losing, but it’s not the kind of thing you hear very often from an Iowa football player.

The character of this Iowa team will be tested in a big way now that a Big Ten title is almost beyond reach. Iowa hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the divisional race yet, but it would take several unlikely scenarios for Iowa to finish on top. 

“Obviously, this loss hurts, every loss hurts,” Gervase said. “But we’ve got to find a way to come together. We’ve got to find a way to finish the full sixty (minutes). It’s not for lack of caring. It’s not for lack of preparation. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team, not just the seniors and not just the leadership guys, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team that do things that right way and really care.

“So we just have to come together as a group and learn from the mistakes and then flush it and then move on to the next game.”

The officiating wasn't the only topic for debate after Saturday's game.

Ferentz also was asked why he chose to go for two points after Iowa had answered Purdue's one-play, 82-yard touchdown touchdown drive early in the third quarter with a five-play, 81-yard scoring that trimmed the deficit to 28-23 with 9:33 left in the third quarter.

The 2-point conversion failed, leaving Iowa with no points instead of one .

Critics will say that it was too early to start chasing points with that much time left in the third quarter.

"Just basically figured we were going to need points and I think it played out that way," Ferentz said.

It makes sense why Ferentz would've felt that way with Purdue shredding Iowa's vaunted defense.

And it's easy to question Ferentz's decision by using hindsight.

Iowa also failed to convert on a 2-point attempt following a short touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that was set up by an interception by Amani Hooker.

So instead of getting four points on two conversions, Iowa got nothing in a game that was decided by two points.

And yet, the Iowa defense still had a chance to secure a victory by stopping Purdue on what proved to be the game-winning drive, but the defense failed to do so.

It was similar to when the defense let Wisconsin drive for a late touchdown that sealed a victory for the Badgers in September at Kinnick Stadium. 

The fact that Ferentz chose to go for two points early in the third quarter shows how little faith he had in his defense. And it was easy to see why with Purdue's offense marching up and down the field.

Iowa’s inability to apply pressure in the pocket was caused partly by Purdue’s overall execution and by Blough throwing quick passes.

“They’re just a solid team, they’ve got a good offensive line and a good offense in general,” said Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson. “They were just mixing up what they were doing and keeping us guessing.”

Despite Saturday’s loss, Iowa still has a chance to be a solid team. That isn’t the same as being a championship team, but you take what you can get.

“There is no quit in us,” said Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who passed for 275 yards and one touchdown in Saturday’s game. “We’re going to come out and we’re going to play the full sixty minutes and do everything we can to turn the corner in these games. And we’re just going to fight until the end.”

Iowa’s three losses have been by a combined 19 points, which only adds to the frustration that comes from being so close.

The challenge now is to stay the course despite the final destination having changed after three losses.

“Just echo that we still have a lot to play for,” Stanley said when asked what has to be done to keep everybody on the bus. “We still have the ability to win 10 games this year, and that’s pretty special, I think, no matter how you do it.”

A 10-win season would be special, but that’s putting the cart way in front of the horse at this stage.

Iowa just needs to win a game so the players can start feeling good about themselves again.