Iowa dropped to 4-3 after their disappointing 17-10 overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday.
It was the third loss by seven points or less this season for the Hawkeyes, whose problems on offense are leaving zero margin for error on defense.
“We obviously didn’t do enough today, and we’re gonna have to do better going forward,” Iowa junior defensive lineman Matt Nelson said.
Saturday’s loss followed the same script that’s doomed Iowa in three losses this season.
“If we had held them to one less point in regulation, we win the game,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Some days it’s going to be like that, other days it’s gonna go the other way. The bottom line is you either play good enough to win or you don’t.”
An inept offense is forcing the Hawkeyes defense to play nearly perfect to win, magnifying every mistake. Two crucial third-down plays ultimately cost the Hawkeyes in Evanston, including Clayton Thorson’s 21-yard run on Northwestern’s first scoring drive…
“We didn’t blow that one, the guy just made a good play,” Ferentz said.
…and Justin Jackson’s 23-yard catch in overtime. Iowa senior linebacker Ben Niemann said Jackson’s play was the product of a mental breakdown.
“It was just a miscommunication with our alignment, and I had to get running back into the box late,” Niemann said. “I came out and got picked by two wideouts, and it’s me and him in open space and I gotta make that play is basically what it comes down to.”
Iowa was actually very good on third down outside of those two plays. They forced the Wildcats into just 2 of 14 conversions on third down, but the run by Thorson and the catch by Jackson proved to be too much in the second half and overtime.
“We love to be with our backs against the wall,” Nelson said. “We love to have the pressure on us. We just need to step up and make the plays that we need to make to get stops.”
The defense can get all the stops they want, but the offense has to make plays in close games. Iowa senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg said it starts with more attention to the small things.
“We gotta continue to work on details, work on our little, finite execution, you know, the little details on where we line up,” VandeBerg said. “Things like that, just little stuff that will help down the road.”
The Hawkeyes enter a critical three-week stretch beginning Saturday against Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium. Then the Buckeyes come to Iowa City in two weeks, followed by a date in Madison against the Big Ten West-leading Badgers.