Posted by: marcmwm | November 3, 2008

Bowl RV sits in the driveway

Iowa bowl RV remains parked

Iowa bowl RV remains parked

By Marc Morehouse
Photo

(Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Dere Hicks of Illinois strips the ball from Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi as he tries to pass during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., on Saturday. The Illini recovered the fumble and scored on the play.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Kirk Ferentz didn’t buy the “they wanted it more” theory. Mathematically, Illinois needed it more, but, logically, yeah, the Hawkeyes wanted it too.

Either way, Iowa (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) went from a position of strength to postseason limbo with Saturday’s 27-24 loss at Illinois.

“We have bowl hopes, too,” the Iowa coach said. “I’d like to think both teams had a lot at stake today.”

The Hawkeyes do have bowl hopes. Some of those hopes are more realistic than others.

Their New Year’s Day bowl hopes probably need a victory this week against No. 3 Penn State (9-0, 5-0) at Kinnick Stadium. Their Alamo or Insight Bowl hopes probably need two victories in their final three games, Penn State, Purdue and at Minnesota.

Their Motor City Bowl hopes? Let’s not go there.

Defensive tackle Mitch King doesn’t see it as a fight for their postseason lives. He sees three opportunities, three legit shots at victory. Granted, that’s his job, but you pay attention to a guy who played Saturday like he was cloned.

“We have a pretty good chance of winning the next three games,” King said. “We’re a pretty darned good football team. We’ve had some tough losses and we’ve had some tough breaks, but I’d consider this a pretty darned good football team.

“If we had some breaks go the other way, we’d be talking a different song here.”

That brings us to the theme song for the ’08 season. A victory over Penn State next week might change the tune, but pretty much no matter what happens during the next three games, the song for this season is “What might’ve been.”

Forget bowls, the Hawkeyes are a few turnovers, some unsteady quarterback play and 12 points from what would’ve been a gigantic ’08.

This is not the time for “would’ve been.” The immediate conversation is now. What’s out there for this team now?

The Hawkeyes have a national stage this Saturday with a 2:30 p.m. ABC game against the Big Ten’s last and best hope for a Bowl Championship Series title game contestant. Even in the wake of Saturday’s bitterness, that stood out.

“I think we have plenty of motivation,” running back Shonn Greene said. “Trying to get to a bowl game, that’s great motivation. We have a great opportunity next week. All we can do is move forward.”

The season’s other contender for “theme” showed up Saturday.

You know all about Greene and his nine consecutive 100-yard games, but the Hawkeyes ultimately have followed the pace set by quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

During Iowa’s 0-2 start in the Big Ten, Stanzi had five turnovers. When the Hawkeyes pulled to 2-2, Stanzi had no turnovers. Saturday, he had three turnovers, with two of those leading to 10 Illinois’ points and the final one, a Vontae Davis’ interception, putting a fork in the Hawkeyes.

It really is as simple as that. The few non-finishes in Illinois’ end zone didn’t help, but the turnovers killed — again.

Stanzi said the ball got away from him on his second interception, the one that ended it. He said tight end Brandon Myers did a good job sitting down against a cover 2 defense, but he left the ball too far outside.

On his first pick, Stanzi said he needed to put the ball on Myers sooner. He waited too long, and strong safety Donsay Hardeman saw it all the way. This interception turned into an Illini field goal and a 10-6 halftime lead.

Was Stanzi trying to do too much?

Greene limped off the field after the first series and sat out for a lot of the first quarter in favor of freshman Jewel Hampton. Greene has been battling a sore ankle since the first half against Indiana — three games — but Ferentz said Hampton’s carries were part of the plan.

In the Wisconsin postgame interview, Ferentz said Greene wasn’t 100 percent. Saturday, Ferentz said he thinks Greene is OK.

“The (bye) week helped him,” Ferentz said. “We had a couple guys, but I think everyone is back moving in the right direction.”

Whether it was the situation — the Hawkeyes were down 24-9 early in the fourth quarter — or Greene’s ankle, but the offense tilted to Stanzi for significant stretches Saturday.

Greene’s 21 carries were his fewest in four games and his 4.9 yards a carry, while respectable, was also his lowest of the season.

“We’ve just got to be more consistent,” said Greene, who had 103 yards and a TD. “We’ve got to punch it in when we’re in the red zone. We’ve got to score touchdowns.”

While Greene was getting his fewest carries in four games, Stanzi’s 29 attempts were the second-most of his career, one shy of the 30 he put up against Northwestern. He finished 11 of 29 for 191 yards, two interceptions and a TD. His pass efficiency was 90.8, a 54.5-point dip from his season efficiency, 145.3, which was No. 25 in Football Bowl Subdivision.

Ferentz termed it a “learning day” for Stanzi.

“We’re not going to give up,” Stanzi said. “We didn’t give up early on in the season. That’s just not the character of our team.”

Three games left. The bowl RV is still in the driveway.

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