It can’t get any worse, right? Like seriously, this has to be rock bottom.

When the clock struck zeros and the final whistle blew just past 10 p.m., Iowa fans could go to sleep. They could close their eyes and escape the 3 ½-hour nightmare they just endured being a fan of this yellow-and-black offense.

Thirteen drives, 8 punts, 2 made field goals, a missed kick, an interception, and plenty of heartbreak. That’s what fans of Iowa (3-3, 1-2) were forced to sit through in a 9-6 loss to Illinois. Once again, Spencer Petras couldn’t find the end zone. Once again, the defense could only do so much..

Most teams understand how to hide their flaws by the halfway point of the season. Iowa, not so much. For the 3rd game this season, Iowa failed to find the end zone.

And no, it’s not as if both offenses entered Saturday with the intent of making the outing a snoozefest. Last week, Illinois (5-1, 2-1) whupped up on Wisconsin’s defense so much that the school fired its 3rd-winningest coach to send a message. The Illini went down to the wire in a loss against Indiana back in Week 1, scoring 2 touchdowns in a 23-20 defeat. They’ve scored at least 24 points in games against Wyoming, Chattanooga and Virginia.

The Illini’s offense had an off night against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa, on the other hand, was Iowa. Going against the FBS’s top-scoring defense, that’s a disaster. And that’s the thing: Is Illinois that great defensively, or is this a new low in terms of offensive production?

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame that in a game of field goals, the offense usually is lacking. Lacking or lifeless, Kirk? There’s a giant difference between the two. One phrase means things will get turned around. The other means Brian Ferentz’s unit is dead on arrival.

This season, Iowa can pencil itself in on the latter.

Since being the No. 2 team in the country last October, the Hawkeyes have gone 7-7. They’ve scored only 18 offensive touchdowns in 14 games and surpassed 30 points in a game once. A scarier stat? Iowa has scored 7 points or fewer 6 times during the same span.

How much blame can you put on the players? Every week guys such as Sam LaPorta, Nico Ragaini and Arland Bruce IV take the field with passion and pride. They leave it bent and broken, without an answer as to why this nightmare keeps unraveling deeper into the season.

Can you blame the youth factor? Iowa always feels as if its offensive line is built out of tree trunks that sprouted legs at the last minute and learned how to handle a counter-spin move from a 6-6 defensive end. Iowa City has been known for producing NFL talent in the trenches on the regular.

That won’t happen in 2022. The Hawkeyes have 4 sophomores starting up front to go along with a freshman starting at right guard. That, plus a quarterback who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.

Yes, the nightmare can get worse.

Kirk Ferentz saw this coming in the offseason. He watched players leave via the transfer portal and failed to replace them with proven talent.

And the results have shown. Saturday’s loss could be chalked up as a “1 step forward, 2 steps back” kind of outing. Running back Kaleb Johnson would break free for a gain of 6, only to be pushed back for a loss of 3 yards on the next play. Petras would connect with LaPorta for a gain of 32 one play and miss him in the flat on the next.

And this is a pattern. Iowa State? South Dakota State? Illinois? Bueller? New week, same old story. Still wrong answers or no answers.

1 step forward, 2 steps back

On more than 1 occasion, Iowa’s defense gave its team a chance to put up points. With 7 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, linebacker Jack Campbell recovered a muffed punt by Illinois’ Isaiah Williams to give the offense the ball at the Illini 35.

The next 3 plays? A sack for a loss of 6 yards, a short pass for a gain of 5, a false start, and an incompletion.

How about 2 drives later when Williams fumbled again, this time setting Iowa up at the Illini 5. Five yards? Easy peasy. Nope, not for Iowa. Petra missed an open Leshon Williams in the flat on 3rd-and-goal, and the Hawkeyes settled for 3 from Drew Stevens.

A new drive, the same offensive implosion.

All that is enough to send chills down one’s spine. But that’s not even the scariest part of Saturday night. Ferentz said that he doesn’t see flaws with his offense, taking on the role of Dad instead of Coach when defending offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

Currently, Iowa’s averaging an FBS-low 238.8 yards per game. It’s averaging 14.7 points, 5th fewest among all FBS programs and 2nd lowest of Power 5 programs.

If this was Brian Ferentz’s first season, Iowa City could have hope.

He’s on Year 6 as the team’s OC. When does it change? Can it change?

Broken things need repairs. The problem is, the person in charge must admit that something isn’t right and that getting someone to take a look is what’s best. Ferentz doesn’t see his offense as “broken” but rather “bruised.”

Until that changes, this is what Hawkeyes fans will continue to see week by week. It might be Halloween season, but every day is spooky season with this offense.