IOWA CITY — The roller-coaster ride continues.
And you can tell Iowa football fans aren’t enjoying the trip.
One of the hallmarks of the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz has been consistency. Week to week, whether they won or lost, you pretty much knew what you were going to get from the Hawkeyes.
This season? You never know what Iowa team is going to show up. The ups and downs have been dizzying.
The Hawkeyes started by edging Northern Illinois, which hasn’t lost since, then went flat in a home game with Iowa State, rebounded to beat Northern Iowa, but lost to Central Michigan, which hasn’t won since. They bounced back to dominate Minnesota and gutted out a road win at Michigan State.
Then on Saturday night against Penn State, in front of a frenzied home crowd, they barely bothered to show up.
The 38-14 score was deceptive. It felt more like 58-0.
“Coach prepared us well,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde insisted. “We just got outplayed. It was us players. We didn’t come out and play the way we should.”
The Hawkeyes looked like they were the team playing under a first-year head coach with a roster depleted by the defections of a few dozen players before the season.
You kind of felt as if the game was over at halftime when Penn State held a 24-0 lead. And when the Nittany Lions whisked down the field to score again in the first minute of the third quarter, you knew it was over.
The Hawkeyes were outgained by 300 yards and probably would have been shut out if not for a kickoff return and a 45-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter.
The performance plunged Iowa fans back into a mood comparable to where they were following the Central Michigan debacle, and they voiced their opinion as the Hawkeyes left the field at halftime, showering their team with boos.
Hyde and other players said they deserved what the fans gave them.
“We didn’t run the ball well, we didn’t throw it well, we didn’t protect,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “That’s a recipe for getting whupped.”
What was really alarming is that this lackluster performance came at home. Ferentz and others likened it to a 2004 blowout at the hands of Arizona State, but that game took place a couple of time zones away. This one came in the friendly (at the outset) confines of Kinnick, amid an almost electric atmosphere.
“Kinnick at night is second to none,” senior center James Ferentz said. “The fans were ready to go. But we just didn’t give them anything to get fired up about.”
Why? No one offered an answer for that one.
But, as expected, the Iowa players insisted that they’ll recover from this. Don’t get off the roller coaster, they warned. The ride isn’t over.
“It’s a loss. It’s not the end of the season,” Hyde said. “It’s a Big Ten loss and that kind of hurts, but we’ve got to move on.”
That obviously is not easy to do with the world around you buzzing with pessimism. The Hawkeyes should be able to get the two more wins they need to cinch a bowl berth and with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play, it could end up being a better bowl bid than they’ll deserve.
But it’s still shaping up as another disappointing season.
Linebacker James Morris said he knows how to deal with the negative vibes.
“Don’t read the newspaper. Don’t go online. Don’t talk to anybody in class,” he said.
“You keep rolling with the punches,” Vandenberg added. “I thought we hung in there and fought despite not playing well. Nobody really got down. There were mistakes all over the place, but everybody kept going. If nothing else, that’s a positive.”