INDIANAPOLIS — The Hawkeyes’ glaring weakness was on display in the Big Ten Championship Game, in what has been all too familiar with their fans throughout this season.
After all, Iowa was inept on offense Saturday night, and once the dust settled it left a fat goose egg on the scoreboard. Michigan smothered Iowa 26-0, which was its’ second shutout loss to a Big Ten opponent this fall. If it wasn’t for the Hawkeyes’ stout defense keeping it somewhat competitive, the final score would’ve been even more lopsided.
Michigan led Iowa in total offense, plays, first downs and time of possession. Everyone knew the Hawkeyes had a slim margin for error, but they still turned the ball over three times. Coach Kirk Ferentz felt the three lost fumbles weren’t a recipe for success, but all he could do is watch in disappointment as the offense struggled the entire evening.
“Tonight certainly wasn’t our night, and we knew we came in here needing to play pretty much a flawless game,” Ferentz said. “Obviously didn’t do that, and didn’t do a great job protecting the football, and a couple of other situations.”
Iowa finished with a mere 155 yards of total offense. Not to mention the Hawkeyes averaged 2.8 yards per play, and only converted four of their 15 third down attempts. The rushing attack was abysmal too, and no Hawkeye generated over 25 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Deacon Hill completed 18 of his 32 passes for 120 yards. However, for a second-straight game, Hill failed to throw for a touchdown. Iowa’s receivers couldn’t get separation from Michigan’s defensive backs, which put more pressure on Hill to make a play. On top of that, Iowa (10-3) hasn’t found the endzone for the last six quarters overall.
Being limited and predictable on offense is what frustrated Ferentz the most, but understands his son and Offensive Coordinator Brian, was operating with the best Hawkeyes that were available.
“I would attribute Michigan’s defensive performance or our offensive performance to their defense,” he said. “That’s not our strength right now, we didn’t match up well, but we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Iowa’s defense was physical though, and held Michigan’s offense to a season-low, 213 yards. It’s unfortunate that the defense was on the field for too many plays, and couldn’t force any turnovers. That has been the backbone of Iowa’s success all season.
The linebackers were extremely active throughout the contest. Jay Higgins put together another stellar outing, and racked up a game-high, 14 tackles. Sebastian Castro added nine stops, including six solo. Defensive lineman Yahya Black dominated from the interior, with five tackles, including one for loss and a sack. Logan Lee, Deontae Craig and Max Llewellyn each tallied a sack.
Ferentz is proud of his players, despite the embarrassing loss on the big stage.
“I just look at this team, what they’ve gone through and what they’ve done, how they persevered when most teams would have buckled, quite frankly, and we’ve had a lot of other stuff going on too,” the 68-year old coach said. “You know, I get to work with these guys every day, and I see them internally at their best, at their worst, and that’s why I respect them so much because I’ve seen them at the low point.”
Ferentz has no shame in losing to arguably the best team in the country. Now he has to pick up the pieces and get the Hawkeyes ready for their bowl game. The extra practices should help the offense down the road too. Iowa still has a chance to win 11 games for the first time since 2015, so the motivation is still there to accomplish that feat.
The bowl game is also going to be the last time Ferentz will coach Iowa alongside Brian, who won’ t be returning to the team in 2024. So sending his son out on top is going to be a big deal in his mind.
“We’re worried about the next game, and we have four weeks to get ready for it, so that’s our focus.”