By Blake Dowson
The weather set the tone for what was an altogether miserable Oct. 1 for Iowa fans, as the Hawkeyes dropped the second game of their Big Ten slate to Northwestern, 38-31.
As the mist fell from the sky, so too did water bottles from the stands when Iowa was tagged with 30 yards of penalties on one play late in the third quarter.
When the rain started to fall even harder as Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard was picked off to seal the victory for Northwestern, so too did boos from the stands.
“Obviously, today was a disappointing outcome for our players, coaches, fans,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Ultimately we didn’t play well enough, and Northwestern did a better job today.”
The offense failed again to gain 100 yards rushing, and things seemed off between Beathard and his receivers at times as well.
The loss of Matt VandeBerg was noticeable, mostly obviously in passing situations, as the Hawkeyes were only 6-of-16 on third down.
Riley McCarron stepped up in VandeBerg’s absence with a career day (8 catches, 78 yards, 1 touchdown), but with the Iowa offense featuring McCarron as the go-to receiver, it went horizontal instead of vertical.
It was mostly quick-hit screen plays and stretch runs for the offense, reminiscent of the 2014 Iowa offense that had so many fans on the edge of a cliff.
The one time Beathard challenged the back end of the Northwestern secondary, he hit Jerminic Smith for a 46-yard reception at the Wildcat 3-yard line.
Some of that has to do with the bad offensive line play, which is becoming a theme for the team. Beathard hardly had time to get those quick-hit screens throw out of his hand before getting hit, let alone a play-action pass down the field.
On plays that seem similar to last season, in which Beathard evaded pressure in the pocket, he ends up lying flat on his back.
“We just got to figure out what we’re not doing well,” Beathard said. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing games, and right now, we’ve lost two and are on that losing side.”
The other side of the ball wasn’t much better, either. A defensive group that looked stingy against Rutgers a week ago looked tired against the Wildcats and again got gashed in the running game.
The Wildcats came up 2 yards shy of 200 for the game, most of it coming from talented back Justin Jackson, who also broke a 58-yard run that ended up being the game-winner with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
“Both teams went toe-to-toe and it was a good start by us and then a great response by Iowa,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, the difference was the way we were able to finish in the second half.”
The loss to Northwestern shows the Hawkeyes are nowhere near a Big Ten championship-caliber team.
The thought that Iowa was a team that could compete for championships was shook loose by the loss to North Dakota State, and it was destroyed on Oct. 1.
Iowa needs to find its identity and find it fast, because the season is starting to slip away awfully quickly. With two losses before even getting to the part of the schedule that includes Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska, the Hawkeyes need to plug some holes in the ship.
Because as was obvious on Oct. 1 with the gloomy skies above, Kinnick Stadium and the Hawkeyes are taking on water.
“We’re trying to shape our identity,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ve had an injury or two, so that modifies things, but it’s going to be a work in progress, and that’s the work in front of us the next six days.”