Howe: Don't Hit Panic Button

Howe: Don't Hit Panic Button

Iowa sneaked past Northern Iowa, 31-23, Saturday in the season-opener at Kinnick. The close score will create some hand wringing from some Hawkeye fans but it shouldn't. As HI publisher Rob Howe writes, they should know better by now.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - You're dreams are shattered. You're appalled by what you saw on the field Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. This season is a goner.

Iowa should dismantle FCS teams at home not allow them within striking distance in the fourth quarter. Man, and we thought 2014 was going to be a special year for the Hawkeyes.

If you're thinking this way after Iowa hung on for a 31-23 win against Northern Iowa here Saturday, you're entitled to your opinion. It's just a narrow view of the current college football landscape and you're Hawkeyes, in particular.

That's not an excuse. It's reality.

"A win is a win," senior defensive tackle Carl Davis said. "They have good players. We have good players. It's all about competing. I don't care if it's the FCS. Those teams want to compete. Those teams want to win bad. Last year, they beat Iowa State, they almost beat Wisconsin and they came in here ready to play.

"It's just learning from our mistakes and playing week to week competing. If we get better every week, I'm sure we'll be fine."

We'll review this again for the delusional fans that think their team plays in Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee. The Hawkeyes program develops, building for the next season once the previous one concludes. It ain't changing, people.

That's not to say everything is fine. The Panthers exposed some key Iowa weaknesses in the season-opener. Those areas need improvement as the Hawkeyes work towards a November crescendo.

"I think Iowa teams really just improve throughout he course of the seasons,'" senior safety Johnny Lowdermilk said. "Obviously we're not going to be as good now as we're going to be a couple of weeks down the road. Just improvement and getting better every week is the big thing."

Rarely does Iowa open the season firing on all cylinders. In '02 and '04, the last two times it won the Big Ten championship, it lost one of itsfirst three games. The '04 team started 2-2 and was destroyed at Arizona State, 44-7. The '02 squad squeaked past Miami of Ohio and lost at home to Iowa State.

In '09, Iowa blocked two field goals in the closing minute to hang on for a 17-16 victory against UNI in Week 1. The Hawkeyes finished 11-2 with a win in the Orange Bowl.

In '06, Iowa started 4-0 and wound up 6-7. The '12 Hawkeyes we're 4-2 and lost their final six games.

The moral of the story is that it's a marathon not a sprint. No matter how you start the race, every leg holds value.

This isn't a sermon. Well, maybe it is to a degree. It just seems in our fast-paced society of screaming from the mountain top (Twitter, talk radio, message boards, etc.), many of us want to know how things will turn out now instead of letting them unfold.

We don't know what's going to happen for the Hawkeyes based on Saturday's game against UNI, good or bad. We wait all off season for football, set our expectations for what the season will bring and forget to enjoy the journey.

Much will be made, and rightfully so, of Panthers running back David Johnson (5 catches, 203 yards) torching Iowa's inexperienced linebackers. The Clinton (Iowa) product slipped out of the backfield, taking short passes for 60 and 70 yards on two of his receptions, the latter for a score.

The Hawkeyes lost three linebackers (Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris) to the NFL after last season. UNI probably heard about it.

The Panther coaches lined up their offense with four receivers, two split wide on each side. It spread out Iowa's defense and left middle linebacker Quinton Alston isolated on the speedy Johnson. A well-conceived attack executed by UNI.

It's certainly not the way Iowa's new linebacking corps wanted to start out. And the coaches did them no favors by failing to adjust to the formation the first time they were burned.

Now, we'll see if it becomes something the staff and players can correct. Maybe opponents find other ways to take advantage of Iowa's inexperience in parts of its defense.

While Johnson found holes in the Hawkeye pass defense, he and his mates found few on the ground. UNI gained 25 yards on 25 attempts. Couple that with Iowa rushing 26 times for 151 and you've got hope for the nuts and bolts of what this team likes to be.

Tevaun Smith showed he might be ready for a breakout '14. The Iowa wideout showed excellent vision and speed on a 35-yard end around and delivered a circus catch for a touchdown shortly after that. The one-handed grab in the back corner of the end zone was an incredible individual effort.

On the down side, the Hawkeye specialists hoped for a better day. Kicker Marshall Koehn converted on a 40-yard field goal but missed from 37. Four of six kickoffs were touchbacks, however. New punter Dillon Kidd averaged 36.2 yards on four attempts but did drop one inside the 20.

Iowa Quarterback Jake Rudock looked sharp, completing 31 of 41 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The junior also ripped off a key 12-yard run on third and long, gaining an important first. Receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and Jake Duzey, a tight end, combined to haul in 15 balls for 96 yards.

Perhaps the biggest mark in Iowa's plus column might have been the difference in the game. The Hawkeyes were penalized just four times (35 yards), the first one coming the fourth quarter. UNI was flagged 16 times for 128 yards.

Lost in Johnson's sprints down the middle of the Iowa defense were the Hawkeyes recording five sacks, three quarterback hurries and nine tackles for loss. They picked off two passes and broke up four others. Seven different players gained positive yards rushing while 13 separate Hawkeyes caught a pass, showing excellent depth on that side of the ball.

No doubt it will be tough for Iowa fans to forget the imagery of Johnson racing down the field. Some folks will remain hung up in the Hawkeyes failing to meet their expectations of smashing an FCS opponent en route to a spot in the first college football playoff.

The facts are that UNI plays FBS opponents very well and it had 18 starters returning. Iowa is breaking in five new players in its first-team defense as well as a pair of specialists. The Panthers took advantage of both…and still lost.

"We try to take the positives out of everything," Alston said. "There's going to be success and there's going to be adversity. We've just got to keep on grinding. We'll come into the film room (Sunday) and correct the little stuff. There were a lot of teaching moments. We're still learning. We'll be learning all season."

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