Rivalry has been cruel to Ferentz's Hawkeyes

By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen
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The explanations were offered Saturday afternoon in a room crammed with filing cabinets, racks of security jackets, stacks of unsold game programs and stunned Iowa football players.

The postgame interview room for visitors at Jack Trice Stadium certainly isn’t extraordinary. And neither was the team occupying it Saturday.

Yet another loss to Iowa State. Yet another September stumble.

This time, it was a 15-13 defeat for an Iowa team that entered the game undefeated and favored by 17 points but instead spent the first half looking like the squad that was winless and coming off home losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I didn’t take them lightly,” Iowa senior running back Damian Sims said Saturday. “Granted, they lost to two teams they should’ve beat based on what I saw today. But you can’t take a week off. You can’t do that. You saw they took two weeks off and they lost to teams they felt they should’ve beat. (But) they played better. They were the better team today.”

Iowa State (1-2) might not have reached the end zone Saturday, but the Cyclones were regular guests in the red zone, collecting five field goals from Bret Culbertson, including a 28-yard shot with 1 second remaining.

“I think probably Culbertson is representative of their football team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He came into this ballgame 0-for-3 (this season) and played a heck of a football game, bounced back, and I think that’s probably indicative of the way they played as well.”

There was symbolism in the loss for the Hawkeyes (2-1), too. Another slow start led to another September stumble for a program that is 22-14 under Ferentz before the calendar flips to October and 3-6 in the Cy-Hawk series.

“I felt we had a good week of preparation, and I think we’ve got pretty good maturity on our football team as far as that goes,” Ferentz said. “The big difference is they’ve improved a great deal in three weeks and we certainly didn’t improve the way they did these past seven days. I don’t think (overlooking Iowa State) was a problem. I thought our attitude was good, I thought our guys were ready to go. I’m not sure they weren’t ready to go in the first half. We didn’t execute and had some problems out there.”

The Hawkeyes had problems in all facets while shoveling themselves a 12-0 halftime grave. Their offense was routinely knocked off schedule by breakdowns in the passing game. Their defense was slowly picked apart by Iowa State’s methodical short passing game. Their special teams couldn’t change field position.

“We know we’ve got to start fast in the first half,” said Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen, who was sacked three times and went 4-for-10 passing for 34 yards in the first half. “We kept putting the defense in a tough spot, and they only gave up four field goals in the first half with that great of field position (Iowa State) had. They played a great game, and it falls on our shoulders.”

Iowa’s offense assembled three second-half scoring drives, cashing in on an 11-yard Christensen touchdown run and two Austin Signor field goals. His 41-yard kick gave the Hawkeyes a 13-12 lead with 3:38 remaining.

But needing a stop on the final series of the game, Iowa’s defense allowed the Cyclones to gain 51 yards on four plays to set up Culbertson’s game-winning kick.

“Naturally, it’s disappointing,” Ferentz said. “All of us feel bad, we’re going to feel bad for a while. But we’ve been here before, and how we handle this is going to be a hell of a lot more important than what happened (Saturday).

The Hawkeyes won’t have Northern Illinois or Syracuse to recover against. Iowa opens Big Ten play Saturday night against ninth-ranked Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium.

“It’s kind of like I told the team all week, what’s happened the last two weeks doesn’t really matter and all that mattered was what we did (Saturday),” Ferentz said. “We came up short, and give them all the credit there. We go back to work (Sunday), we make corrections, and we try to grow and improve, and I think we did grow and improve in the last 30 minutes. Now, obviously we’re going to have to make a hell of a lot of improvement this week to have a chance next week.”

Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or ahamilton@press-citizen.com.