MINNEAPOLIS - One of the more intriguing story lines heading into Saturday's Iowa-Minnesota game involved the direction of each program.
The Hawkeyes entered the contest improving with time, a key characteristic when Coach Kirk Ferentz fields a strong team. In Year 3 of his tenure, Jerry Kill brought his Golden Gophers into the contest at 4-0. This was the season at his two previous stops, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, where his programs leaped far forward.
Maybe Iowa's 23-7 win here turns out to be just a bump in the road for a Minnesota team on its way to besting last year's six wins. Time will tell. More apparent now is the Hawkeyes being on a classic path trending up.
Saturday's result by no means sealed a successful season for Iowa. Remember, patterns of the past showed a continued progress, like a graph where the line continually moved up.
The Hawkeyes must keep improving to contend with what, at least on paper, is the most difficult part of their schedule upcoming. Their remaining seven opponents are coming off postseason appearances in 2012.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this Iowa team paralleling the standard of the developmental program is the player's attitude. Almost to a man in Saturday's post-game a sense of unfinished business prevailed. The four-game winning streak was placed in perspective and satisfaction was nowhere to be found.
"We just have to stay focused on our goal," senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. "We know what happened to us last year. We started off 4-2 last year, 2-0 in the Big Ten. We don't want that feeling again, whatever it was, the last four or six games. We're definitely an experienced team and we know how to handle things like that."
All of the components work in unison. Avoiding complacency goes hand-in-hand with quarterback Jake Rudock better reading the defense and Iowa suring things up in the secondary, an obvious area in need of progress.
"I think we're improving every game but the important thing is to not get satisfied with just improving a little," Rudock said. "We have to improve every single day. That's the biggest thing that all of the coaches are stressing - "OK, good job, but we're not there yet. We have to keep working."
"That's what every other team in the nation is trying to do, just get a little bit better every week."
It's more important that they accomplish that goal at Iowa than at Alabama. The Hawkeyes begin the journey well behind the blue bloods most seasons.
"You try to take it one game at a time," Rudock said. "It's something I've always been taught. It's something that Coach Ferentz always preaches. Understand the importance of one game at a time. Don't worry about December. Don't worry about the second part of the year. Worry about next week. Worry about the next play, the most important thing that you can have control over."
Iowa turned the ball over three times in a season-opening, 30-27, home loss to Northern Illinois. It scraped by a poor FCS opponent in Missouri State, 28-14, in Week 2 while being whistled for 11 penalties.
Saturday, the Hawkeyes were flagged once. They won the turnover battle, 2-1.
It's impossible to know if Iowa would have won here Saturday if it had been played Week 1. It's not hard to determine that its a better team heading into October than it was heading into September.
"We've improved each week but we're still not there yet," running back Mark Weisman said. "We're not the consistent offense we want to be. We need to finish more drives."
Keep in mind, Iowa's bulldozing ball carrier is saying that about a unit that totaled 464 yards on Saturday against a Golden Gophers defense that had been pretty stingy, especially in allowing rushing yards.
While the Hawkeye offense sits light years ahead of last season's sad state of affairs, the defense is playing incredibly well. It's clear it's improving on that side of the ball every week.
"It goes back to the winter in the weight room," defensive tackle Carl Davis said. "We worked so hard in this offseason. It was unbelievable. We're starting to see the benefits of that."
Minnesota entered Saturday's action rushing for 282.2 yards per game. Iowa held the Gophers to 30.
"The game was about playing team defense," Ferentz said. "I believe our guys did a good job of staying where they needed to be and not overcompensating."
Winning as a team is another cliché for you to consume. It's a successful formula dating back to leather helmets.
The irony here is that with all the offseason talk about change in Iowa City, it's the original recipe pulling these Hawkeyes together. Yes, they run more plays on offense and blitz more on defense, but the changes are more subtle than wholesale.
Iowa has equaled its victory total from last season before the calendar flipped to September. It's done so without fan fare or much expected from anyone around the country.
Yeah, this journey is starting to feel really familiar. It's a path well traveled and traveled well.