Maybe, just maybe, this year would be different.
After all, Iowa came into the Outback Bowl riding three straight victories to end the season, two of which were against top-25 teams. The Hawkeyes finally had their offensive line in place, and after some early struggles, it looked like the two-back system was clicking.
The Hawkeyes weren’t facing some high-powered offense. This wasn’t Christian McCaffrey, Jalen Hurd or Odell Beckham, Jr. They were facing former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby and a Florida offense that ranked 109th in FBS.
Add to the fact that Iowa spent roughly half the time it usually does at its bowl destination, and there was a feeling that maybe this could be the game that Iowa snaps its four-game bowl losing streak.
Instead, it was the same brutal, frustrating end to Iowa’s season.
The Outback Bowl was an all-too-familiar flashback for a team that for whatever reason, can never seem to finish on a high note.
When a team loses five straight bowl games, it comes back to the coaching staff. There’s something in the preparation that isn’t working there.
Let’s give the Iowa defense a pass because while the Hawkeyes weren’t perfect — too many missed tackles on Florida’s big offensive plays — but they were better than what the final score indicated.
The offense, however, was not.
C.J. Beathard’s lack of mobility coupled with Iowa’s lack of healthy receivers hurt, but there was zero creativity with the offensive game-plan. Iowa was predictable in key third-and-shorts, and in every key situation to get into the end zone, it couldn’t.
Florida never looked fooled by anything Iowa did. It was almost as if Iowa said, “Our better is better than your better,” and was content to have a conservative, predictable offensive game-plan.
Sure, it went downhill after Beathard pulled his hamstring, but Iowa wasn’t clicking before that. And to make matters worse, Kirk Ferentz left Beathard in far too long to take punishment when the game was out of reach. Iowa had do watch Beathard’s final collegiate moments come to a painful end. That was a shame after all he did for the program the last two years.
None of Iowa’s seniors got to experience a bowl win. That’s a demoralizing thought for a guy like Desmond King, who didn’t have to come back to Iowa for another year.
But Iowa’s rollercoaster season ended in the way many have come to expect.
That’s perhaps the big-picture issue with Iowa. Nationally, the Hawkeyes sort of represent the prototypical B1G team — run the ball, play good defense, hope that does the job. Now they have five straight bowl losses, four of which were by at least three scores.
Because of Iowa’s loss, the B1G dropped to 3-6 — guaranteeing a losing postseason record — and 0-2 against SEC teams in bowl games. Once again, Iowa looked too slow, too set in its ways to beat an SEC team. That hurts.
This was supposed to be the year the B1G turned it around. Entering bowl season, it looked like that would happen.
This was supposed to be the year that Iowa finally finished strong. Entering the second quarter on Monday, it looked like that would happen.
Iowa will now go back to the drawing board after an eight-win season. The foundation is in place — a young and talented offensive line — but the Hawkeyes will have a new quarterback and they’ll miss their All-American cornerback.
Maybe we see changes to Iowa’s coaching staff. The demoralizing fashion of the Hawkeyes’ losses could prompt some of that, though the chances of that are slim given Ferentz’s loyalty to his staff.
As we’ve learned, it’s not easy to change things in Iowa City.