How many games does it take to find the center of the Iowa football team's identity in 2014?
We're getting dangerously close to "the world may never know" territory with each passing week, and Hawk Central chatters decided that the Hawkeyes' 30-14 road experience at Illinois wasn't as scrumptious as the old Tootsie Pop experiment.
You can practically hear the retorts already congealing in defense.
… But Iowa was ahead 30-7 deep in the fourth quarter (4 minutes to play)!
… But Iowa outgained the Fighting Illini in total yardage by more than double (587-235)!
… But Iowa finally discovered its running game (304 yards, 134 for Mark Weisman)!
To those numerically sound points, commenters such as SoCal Hawkeye would reply: "Does anyone wearing black/gold realize how bad Illinois is?"
That's the crux of this must-win result that kept the Hawkeyes a part of the jumbled Big Ten West race. Iowa finally escaped its soporific first 35 game minutes and ran away with win No. 7 — you don't generally gripe about road triumphs. But it wasn't crisp. It wasn't pretty. Despite just one penalty, and in the final minute, to boot, it didn't look fundamentally sound.
Those feelings of lingering unease led to a telling, though unscientific, poll result from fourth-quarter viewers. Fifty-six percent have a confidence level of 3 or less on a 1-10 scale of the Hawkeyes beating either Wisconsin or Nebraska at home in the final two regular-season games. Just 38 percent fell in the 4-7 range, with 6 percent riding the 8-and-above train.
… But Iowa had its tight ends come alive (Jake Duzey's 110 receiving yards and Ray Hamilton's two touchdowns!)
… And Iowa had its fourth-down magic run out, with unsuccessful play calls and brazen decisions to forgo field goals leaving at least 10 points on the table.
For instance, what of offensive coordinator Greg Davis' call to plow Mark Weisman into the Illinois defensive front on fourth-and-goal from the 1?
"Just like that, Illinois is out of trouble," said BonduHawk. "Unbelievable."
Or what about a fourth-and-2 from the Illinois 22 in the second quarter? Quarterback Jake Rudock completed a wobbly pass to fullback Macon Plewa, who ran a 1-yard route and then fell down before gaining the necessary yardage to move the sticks.
"Good awareness of where the yard marker was," started Blitz. "Unfortunately, seems to have ended up on the wrong side of it."
"Only we would throw it under the first-down line on fourth-and-short," finished Dodger.
Don't forget, too, that coach Kirk Ferentz let 25 seconds run off the clock toward the end of the second half before calling his second timeout. Then, with Iowa running a two-minute drill offense, the Hawkyes let the clock run from 12 seconds to 4 without using their final timeout, forcing a longer-than-necessary field-goal attempt of 46-yards from Marshall Koehn that clanged off the right upright.
"So (Ferentz) leaves a TO on the board," fumed Scott. "That means the Hawks have four in the second half, right? Seems legit."
Oh, and then there was the third-quarter decision to eschew a 40-yard field in favor of an incomplete pass to Tevaun Smith.
"Don't go for it if we are going to execute and call plays like we've been doing...." pleaded SparrowHawk.
… But the Iowa defense managed a safety!
… And the rest of the first half devolved into such a snooze-fest that a battery of baseball references ruled toward the lunch hour, with SparrowHawk again providing the punch.
"Inept on inept, dull on dull, even match today..." began one comment. "Welcome to bad football exemplified."
Saturday's game was no mountain of negativity. However, Big Ten color analyst J Leman couldn't help but wonder where the Hawkeyes' consistency has been in 2014.
"How did this team lose to Iowa State? How did Iowa lose to Maryland? It might be a little frustrating, and you could say this is a better football team than that," Leman said. "They could very easily be 8-1 right now and on the verge of going 9-1 and ranked in the top 25."
Yet Iowa sits at 7-3, with the range of results still spanning the emotional spectrum.
… And really, isn't that the most stomach-churning possibility of all?
NO REPLAY WOES: Hey, this Big Ten Conference crew knows replay. That's a fresh take from what Iowa received against Minnesota last week.
Two plays come to mind. The first was an Akrum Wadley non-fumble that properly stood.
The other was a Mark Weisman fumble that wasn't, and might have even been a touchdown. Tough to tell by this angle whether Weisman was on top of bodies as he stretched the ball out, but I always find it fascinating that we at home get the same looks as the replay staff.
It's a great system of armchair quarterbacking.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Last week, it was ESPN's Beth Mowins dropping Hayden Fry's name instead of Kirk Ferentz's.
Saturday, play-by-play man Cory Provus of the Big Ten Netowrk had a less egregious, but still hilarious, slip-up.
Damond Powell caught a touchdown pass was rechristened "Diamond" Powell, recalling a certain professional wrestler of WCW and WWE fame.
"Diamond cutter! Bang!" said Backupgoalie of the wrester's finishing maneuver.
... AND SOME GUY NAMED C.J.: Yep, you can bet C.J. Beathard made the Internet giddy with his fourth-quarter touchdown drive, including the aforementioned score to Powell.
You know the response by now. People were happy. People want Beathard to start. It still seems unlikely, but that doesn't' stop the cheering.
"How can you NOT see C.J.'s talent?" asks HeneryHawk.
Isn't that the question.
Check out a full replay of the chat right here, and join us next week as Melvin Gordon's scary rushing ability comes to town.