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Hawkeyes’ offense misfires in setback

Shane Barron, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

IOWA CITY – For Iowa’s offense during the 2012 season, the ‘Red Zone’ has more resembled a red light. Now two games into their campaign, the Hawkeyes have only been able to score one touchdown and have had to settle for six Mike Meyer field goals.

For the second year in a row, Iowa State bettered the Hawkeyes, by a three-point margin, this time, a 9-6 slugfest at Kinnick Stadium. While neither team seemed to want to score touchdowns, Iowa State appeared to be more in tune offensively, outgaining Iowa 342 to 304.

“When you only score six points, you’re not exactly in sync,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said.

In a game where two touchdowns would have proven to be ample, the Hawkeyes again were forced to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Even a touchdown the Hawkeyes thought they had earned was ultimately taken away.

Late in the third quarter, Vandenberg connected with Keenan Davis for an apparent touchdown after Davis temporarily broke loose from an Iowa State defender and reached out and put the ball into the end zone. After an official review, it was determined that Davis had gone out of bounds at the 3-yard line. But Iowa had earned a first down. Iowa running back Damon Bullock was then stuffed at the 2 by Iowa State’s Jake Knott. Subsequently, Bullock tried the left side for a loss of one.

On third-and-2, Vandenberg rolled out to his right and found fullback Mark Weisman, who had broken his route at the goal line. Weisman dropped the ball. It wouldn’t be the last time an Iowa receiver dropped the ball in a crucial situation.

“Obviously, when you think you are getting seven and you only get three, it’s a big deal,” Vandenberg said.

“It was a huge three-down sequence,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads.

Davis, thought he had stayed in-bounds and made the big play everyone in Kinnick Stadium was waiting and hoping for.

“I thought I was in,” Davis said. “It definitely hurt us, especially since our offense has been struggling.”

“I thought he stepped out, but you have to come back out on the field and adjust to the situation,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We had to go from there. It’s a makeable situation.”

With a little over three minutes remaining, Vandenberg looked for Don Schumpert on fourth-and-10. The pass was good enough to give Iowa a first down in Iowa State territory. Again, an Iowa receiver dropped the ball.

“As a receiver, we have to catch everything, and do our job,” Davis said. Davis caught four passes on the day for 75 yards.

Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz caught four passes for 61 yards. Fiedorowicz was asked about Iowa’s troubles in scoring touchdowns.

“It’s hard to explain,” the junior from Johnsburg, Ill., said. “We’ve got to execute. We’re dropping balls in big situations. When you are in the red zone, people have got to make plays and do their job.”

Ferentz agreed that Iowa’s passing game wasn’t up to the task for a full game.

“There were times where we were driving the ball and making some plays, but we’re not there yet. That’s fairly obvious right now,” he said.

As poor as Iowa’s offense was, there was still a chance to pull the game out, or at a minimum send the game into overtime.

With 1 minute, 56 seconds to play, Vandenberg marched the Hawkeyes down to the Iowa State 32 on six plays. However, Knott made a leaping interception at the Cyclones’ 24 to preserve the victory.

Vandenberg blamed himself for poor decision-making concerning the throw. It was first down and he had plenty of time remaining.

“We were right on the edge of field goal range,” Vandenberg said. “That is a ball that can’t be thrown. It’s completely on my shoulders. I know better. We work on that scenario all the time. There was a small window there, but that window shouldn’t have even been addressed. The ball should have went out of bounds.”

Iowa’s passing game has had difficulty getting on track this season. Last week in a 18-17 win over Northern Illinois, it was six sacks permitted by a young offensive line that proved to be the difference. This week, it was a case of dropped balls at opportune times.

“Our protection was better today, but we obviously didn’t finish drives,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think we’re that far away, but things just aren’t clean and crisp right now.”

Vandenberg, a fifth-year senior, was 20-of-42 on the day for 236 yards. The deep threat of Marvin McNutt has seemingly vanished and Iowa had a difficult time unleashing running back Damon Bullock. Bullock, who rushed for 150 yards against Northern Illinois, was limited to just 53 yards on 22 carries.

In a game where points and yards were precious commodities, Iowa was forced into four three-and-outs during the pivotal second half.

“Those aren’t much fun, obviously,” Ferentz said. “For some reason, we didn’t throw the ball well enough to win. There isn’t a lot of time to sit around about it and mope about it. We’ve got to get to work tomorrow.”

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