Last week, many of Hawkeye Nation looked to single out James Vandenberg after the Hawkeyes got blasted at home by Penn State.
The negativity towards Vandenberg probably won’t be lessened too much this week, but, just like against Penn State, Iowa’s struggles run much deeper than one position.
Northwestern’s Venric Mark and Kain Colter both rushed for more than 160 yards, the Wildcats’ banged-up secondary held Iowa to just 204 passing yards and the Wildcats left their half-empty stadium with a 28-17 victory over the Hawkeyes in a Big Ten Legends Division battle.
The Wildcats also blocked a punt that turned into seven points and turned Iowa over on downs late in the game when the Hawkeyes were trying to make it a field goal game.
Vandenberg played much better in his efforts to get the team back on track. Several receivers dropped passes to stall drives in the first half. Vandenberg wasn’t perfect, but no quarterback typically is. When he makes passes that should be caught, the receivers have to help him out and catch the ball.
Northwestern scored on its first two drives of the game, converting several third and longs along the way. Most of those conversions came with Colter’s legs as he got loose up the middle several times in the first half.
The Wildcats even scored a touchdown on a drive that started at the 2. That scoring drive featured another Colter TD run but was set up by a 72-yard burst from Mark.
Blame Vandenberg if you want.
While he is always partly to blame in losses — and he knows that — this Iowa team has much deeper issues than just poor play at quarterback.
The Iowa receivers are not making enough plays when they get the opportunity.
The offensive line, a unit that has dealt with some big injuries, gave three sacks that stalled successful drives in the first half.
Then there’s the defense. Not many teams will win games after allowing two rushers to gain more than 160 yards. And 349 of the Wildcats’ 433 total yards were courtesy of their ground game.
Oh yeah, and the special teams gave up a blocked punt inside their own 20 that led to an easy 1-play, 4-yard TD run by Colter.
Damon Bullock had a solid return to the Iowa lineup and looks to be back to 100 percent. He rushed for 107 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. He and Mark Weisman should make a nice tandem moving forward.
But if Iowa wants to win any of their final four remaining contests, it has to find a way to pressure the quarterback and stop the run on defense. And the offense needs to make plays when plays are there to be made.
This young Iowa team has plenty of issues that go beyond the arm of Vandenberg. The senior from Keokuk has had his flaws, but he is hardly the reason Iowa is 4-4 overall.
Looking at the schedule, it is hard to find two more wins for the Hawkeyes, which would keep them from another bowl game. With a trip to Michigan and a regular-season finale at home against a good Nebraska team still looming, this weekend’s game at Indiana becomes an instant must-win.
How will Iowa fans react to not making a bowl game?
This team is the youngest ever in the Kirk Ferentz era. And the Hawkeyes are dealing with an overhaul on the coaching staff.
Will that matter at this point? Some are already ready to push Ferentz out the door.
However, it is during times like these that Ferentz does his best coaching. It is time for him to step up to the plate.