No. 24 Iowa regroups after 2 straight losses
It's not like a win over Minnesota this weekend is going to help ease Iowa's disappointing season all that much.
But a loss to the downtrodden Gophers would make life truly miserable for the Hawkeyes.
All the goals that No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) had going into the season, like a Big Ten title, a return trip to a BCS bowl game and perhaps a run at a national title, are off the table thanks to back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes can still salvage a decent bowl bid and finish above .500 in the league, but only if they beat the Gophers (2-9, 1-6) on Saturday and hang on to the ''Floyd of Rosedale'' trophy.
''Last year we won some close games, and this year the ball hasn't rolled our way. It's a matter of one or two plays. One or two plays last year, we got them. One or two plays this year, we haven't gotten them,'' Iowa safety Tyler Sash said. ''We can't control anything that's happened, and we're going to keep playing.''
The Hawkeyes will face Minnesota without starting running back Adam Robinson, who suffered a mild concussion in a win over No. 11 Michigan State last month and got drilled again late in Saturday's 20-17 loss to the Buckeyes.
It could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because Robinson's absence will let Iowa to take another long, hard look at Marcus Coker before next season gets under way.
Coker, a 230-pound freshman from Beltsville, Maryland, has played very well when he's been pushed into the lineup.
Coker ran for 129 yards on 22 carries against Indiana in relief of Robinson, and he had 70 yards on just nine attempts last week after Ferentz sat Robinson for the first quarter because of what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz dubbed ''academic indigestion.''
Ferentz said Tuesday that Robinson is expected to return for Iowa's bowl game, which could hinge greatly on how the Hawkeyes fare this weekend. But if Coker can put together a strong outing, he'll push himself into the mix for more carries in 2011, along with injured sophomore Jewel Hampton.
''With every exposure we've had to Marcus, which has been fairly limited, has been impressive. The defense we played the other night was a very tenacious, fast-closing defense and a hard-hitting defense. So, to see him perform like he did in that environment, I thought that was awfully impressive,'' Ferentz said.
For the rest of the Hawkeyes, this week's first trip to TCF Bank Stadium represents a chance to show some resiliency and get the team back on good footing heading into bowl preparation.
Iowa's slide has been a tough one to figure out, since it's four losses have come by a total of just 15 points. Though optimists might view that as proof that the Hawkeyes aren't as bad as their record says they are, the truth is that both their offense and defense have let them down in crucial late moments.
''In our losses, it's been pretty graphically spelled out where the issues are, what the concerns are. The challenge for us this week is to try to remedy those things as best we can,'' Ferentz said.
Iowa scored at least 31 points in seven of their first eight game, but it's been held to 18 or less in each of their last three games. The late-game comebacks that had come to define quarterback Ricky Stanzi's career haven't been there either, even though Stanzi's had by far the best statistical season of his career with 23 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a completion rate of 66.2 percent.
The Hawkeyes second half woes on defense have been both well documented and hard to fathom, given that they're sixth in the nation with just 15.5 points allowed per game.
But the fourth quarter has been by the far the worst for Iowa, which has scored 73 points in that frame this season while giving up 72. In the last two weeks, the Hawkeyes have been outscored 24-7 in the final 15 minutes.
''If you don't finish, that's the difference between being in a BCS game and not,'' Ferentz said.