IOWA CITY — Fall semester classes at Iowa began last week, but football coach Kirk Ferentz believes his team is ready for finishing school.
“The next step is you have to learn how to win,’’ Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Looking backward, there were a couple of opportunities Saturday where I felt like we were real close to maybe turning the game, but we just couldn’t quite get it done.’’
As a result, the Hawkeyes opened the season with a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois which extended Iowa’s ongoing losing streak to seven games.
There were plenty of things to build on.
A sack-free performance from the offensive line which helped Jake Rudock throw for 256 yards. The 202 rushing yards Iowa accumulated. And then there was the strong start to the season by Iowa’s linebackers, including a 13-tackle performance by Anthony Hitchens that Ferentz labeled the best football he has seen the senior play.
There also were areas getting attention on the practice field this week as Iowa works toward its 11 a.m. game Saturday against Missouri State.
Ferentz points to a handful of possessions early in the second half and three costly turnovers as examples of situations where he felt the Hawkeyes were a play or two away from securing the win.
“The turnovers, a false start penalty, not being set on a sneak, a near miss on a long pass, those things come back and hurt you, too,’’ Ferentz said. “The little things add up and that’s kind of the next step that we have to take.’’
Game tapes illustrated to players what Ferentz was talking about.
“It’s down and distance, making a second-and-two play when it’s there instead of trying make a bigger play and getting stood up at the line,’’ running back Damon Bullock said. “It’s a little thing at the time, but it ended a drive.’’
Defensive tackle Carl Davis saw it from the other side of the ball.
“It was third-and-five and I was engaged with a blocker and that allowed the quarterback to slip right past me. It was a play that was there for me to make that I let get away,’’ Davis said. “It’s a split-second difference in making a decision, but at the end of the day the wrong choice can lead to a loss. The margin is that thin.’’
Northern Illinois kicker Mathew Sims reminded the Hawkeyes of that, knocking the game-deciding field goal through from 36 yards with five seconds left in the game.
“It’s a tough lesson to learn, again,’’ safety Tanner Miller said. “But all you can do when it happens is learn from it, go back to work and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’
Rudock, whose late interception set the Huskies up for their game-winning drive, completed 21-of-37 passes in his collegiate debut.
Ferentz praised Rudock for his awareness of what was taking place on the field and said communication between quarterback, players and coaches was good throughout the game.
Rudock acknowledged that throwing behind the defender led to his final mistake of the game, providing room for growth, but he was pleased with the flow of an offense which piled up 458 yards.
“I’d say we looked very fluid for a first time out,’’ Rudock said. “We did some good things out there, but obviously there are some things to correct.’’