In every college football game, there are very different stories to be told depending on perspective. For Northern Illinois, a 30-27 defeat of Iowa in Saturday’s season opener is vindication for the sole loss the Huskies suffered in last year’s historic campaign.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes, the 30-27 loss rekindles the many burning questions skeptics of the program have concerning head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff.
Saturday’s contest went back and forth, with neither team ever leading by more than the 10-point advantage NIU built in the first quarter.
A problem for Iowa is the initial 10 points it surrendered to the Huskie offense was one side of a deciding book-end. NIU overcame a Hawkeye lead in the game’s final five minutes, tying it up on Jordan Lynch-to-Da’Ron Brown touchdown strike then securing the win on a field goal in the waning seconds.
The Northern Illinois story is one of a late rally against a Big Ten Conference foe. The Iowa story is one of timidity down the stretch costing a team in need of a rebound an important building block.
The Huskies’ fourth quarter rally accentuated one of the most consistent criticisms of the Hawkeyes’ current regime. Iowa’s final score was a 44-yard Mike Meyer field goal on a fourth down-and-three from the Northern Illinois 26. The situation dictated a field goal attempt — connecting put the Hawkeyes ahead by a touchdown, with under seven minutes remaining.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis had also gone into an extremely conservative play-calling mode on this drive. Quarterback Jake Rudock, who in the previous three quarters passed more than perhaps expected, threw just twice. Each attempt was a screen.
Otherwise, the Hawkeyes went into clock-killing mode with seven rushes. The first few cut into the NIU defense; Mark Weisman went for 21 yards on two carries and Damon Bullock picked up seven. But after the Huskies buckled down, the Hawkeyes went for four consecutive rush attempts of two, two, three and four yards.
In much the same way the prevent defense is jokingly (yet oftentimes accurately) described as only preventing victory, conservative offensive play-calling allowed the prolific NIU offense an opportunity to tie. The subsequent Hawkeye possession featured a similar flurry of short yardage plays.
The Hawkeyes have much from which they can build. A backfield finally stocked with healthy running backs produced 202 yards and the offense gained 458 total. After the anemia that vexed Iowa a season ago, such production demonstrates tremendous strides that could buoy the Hawkeyes into the Big Ten season.
Until then, the story of Iowa’s Week 1 is missed opportunity and an 0-1 mark.