I'm often impressed with the spirit of the Iowa fan. I'll always remember that they had the most App State shirts I saw on the road all year back in 2007. And in 20 years of tailgating, we've only returned to a damaged vehicle one time, and that was in Iowa. Vandalism=Spirit. They think we're rivals, and despite the fact that Saturday was just their 15th win in 60 tries, your average 18-year old can only remember that they are currently 6 out of 7. A pretty good clip, even in the Rod-Hoke era, so maybe they have a bit of a point. They have an odd swagger that projects more confidence than actually resides within them. It has a feeling of being a delicate balance between "we love this team, and we're going to kick your ass farmer-style" and "whatever happens, take us with you back to Michigan because I'm struggling to not drink Drano to end this pain." A night game at Kinnick provided a day's worth of liquid courage to help amplify the attitude. And frustration in a vanilla coach with a seemingly lifetime contract adds to the complicated psyche. Every yahoo that spewed smack in our direction was quickly quieted with a "beat us today, and you'll have Ferentz at the helm for another 10 years." Prior to last season's 12-2 mark, which was marred by falling to Sparty and laying down for Stanford to end the year, Iowa had 30(!) losses in the previous 5 years. But Ferentz and his massive buyout rode out that storm and snagged a double-digit win season, which seems to appear every 5-years like clockwork.
A disappointing 2016 campaign that included an FCS loss had the boo birds of Hawkeye nation peacocking again. This of course primed them for one of those one-game, one-shot, change the season type performances. When the teams took the field on Saturday, Michigan jogged out of the tunnel, scattered, no fire, almost in disarray on the route to their sideline, while Iowa marched out like a line of soldiers, arm-in-arm, blackout crowd in tow. It was the type of atmosphere that can get you some early momentum, and typically lasts until you get punched in the mouth. But we never punched them in the mouth. The ball bounced their way, the calls went their way, and the game went their way. And all those things went their way because they wanted it more.
We as fans were taking everything for granted, and used every excuse we could muster to remain calm in the face of adversity: Rough half for Wilt, he'll get it together! Haltime Harbaugh adjustments coming! We'll eventually wear them out! 4th quarter is our quarter! We'll block this kick! We'll still beat Ohio State!
The team took everything for granted too. The first bit of passion I saw on the field from a player wearing white was some jumping and flexing by Jake Butt after a 4th quarter catch, when he knew that their backs were against the wall.
Personally, I had propped up Coach as a guy that could always find some motivational tactic in the face of the duldrums of being dominant. This did not happen. We didn't need a home run Saturday, just a base hit. This was a swing and a miss. It also wasn't the best called game, X's and O's-wise, particularly O's. Shoehorning a hesitating De'veon into an endless amount of low-output carries when Evans was clearly the quick hole-hitting man for this matchup felt very Lloyd-like, very much senior over talent. And how about some Jabrill when we need him with the chips down, as opposed to showcasing him when we're up by 30? Also, I love the deep ball. I love throwing down field. I'd be pro-occasional deep ball even if Steven Threet was under center. But when throw after throw after throw over 15 yards is consistently 5 yards off in any direction, it doesn't matter how open the amazing play designs make the receivers, you've got to recognize it and get some shorter routes working.
Defensively, we have seen a regression on fundamentals, particularly WRAPPING THE F*CK UP, so Brown will have to deal with that in practice I guess. I'm always skeptical that you can teach things like this at this point in the season, but we'll see. This pretty much started at Sparty and has continued in some form through Saturday, when Wadley slipped tackles left and right on the way to the best day for a RB against Michigan in 2016. But the defense, despite appearances, did their part. They played well enough to win. And would have played even better had the offense sustained a drive or two.
And now for the obligatory "so here we are...."
So here we are, the sting from the loss eased by Clemson following suit, rankings staying the same, and opportunities on the horizon...but humbled at our mortality. Could be a recipe for success. Could result in a loss at home to Indiana on senior day. The end result of Michigan falling to Iowa? There will be no perfection, the sure are now unsure, and Michigan is a clear underdog for Thanksgiving weekend. Everything else remains intact.
There are 5 more games to win.
There's not much to say anymore, not before we take our bellies full of leftover turkey and drive south to hell. This turnaround is historic. And so fast. This journey from self-loathing to chest-thumping is difficult to comprehend, and tough for those of us that have been to a game or two (hundred) to believe in. We were there for that Sugar Bowl season under Hoke when we were "back," and that 2006 season when we were "unstoppable." So this isn't over, but I again refer to the eye test, that this week showed us a quarterback developing into a bonafide threat rather than a game manager. Harbaugh has out-Lloyded Lloyd, creating a season long gameplan hiding chess game that has shown so many looks with different strengths and different weaknesses that opponents can't pick a poison. And by the time they decide, they're down by 21.
We killed the Terrapins on Saturday. It was over immediately. There was a double lateral. As I said previously, we are literally f*cking with teams. With every blowout, the team's future gets brighter. 2nd string gets playing time, pushes 1st string, everybody gets better and 2017 is on track...snowball effect.
So here we are, 9 and friggin' 0, with our 2nd of the 3 juggernaut away contests, this one possibly even easier than the last, despite it being just our second venture outside of the state of Michigan. Another team dying to save their season by finding a way to beat us. Another team that can declare a moral victory if they keep it under 20.