Embracing the imperfection

IOWA CITY – Rules dictate there had to be a winner in Saturday’s Iowa-Iowa State clunker at Kinnick Stadium.

It’s hard to come up with a better conclusion to this comedy of errors. If the game had somehow reached overtime, the circus music was all cued up and ready to go.

Let’s start with the good news for the Cyclones: they prevailed in Iowa City for the first time since the days of Seneca Wallace a full decade ago. That’s the bottom line. Forget the points they left on the field, the red-zone woes, the questionable kicking and everything else that didn’t contribute to the 9-6 victory.

Well, don’t forget it – just overlook it for the time being.

It takes heart and guts to win in this venue, where Iowa is now 55-13 since 2002. Iowa State proved it has both. What the Cyclones lacked in attainment was certainly offset by perseverance.

Jake Knott’s interception sealed the deal, which was certainly fitting given he’s as home grown as they come. With that being said, quarterback Steele Jantz’s open-field tackle of James Morris after his inexcusable interception was the play of the day. It also personified ISU’s will, which was unwavering despite the inefficiency of its offense near the goal line.

The light at the end of the Hawkeyes’ tunnel? They only lost by three points. Let’s be honest: Iowa State could have easily walked away with a comfortable double-digit win, given the way it moved the ball and the field position it had almost all afternoon long. Thanks in large part to Iowa’s relentless defensive attitude, not only did the Cyclones struggle to finish off the Hawks, but the outcome was somehow in doubt until the very end.

Kirk Ferentz’s defense this season won’t remind anyone of the 1985 Chicago Bears – or even the 2009 Hawkeyes, for that matter. However, it’s the strength of the program at the moment. You take what you can get at this point, even if a half-full Iowa glass is leaking all over the place.

Did Hawk fans ever think they’d long for the days of Ken O’Keefe? Talk about a brutal lesson in being careful for what you wish. I wouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to new offensive coordinator Greg Davis, quarterback James Vandenberg or the Iowa receivers, but collectively, there are issues and doubts beginning to bubble just two weeks into a season that is now dotted with more questions than answers.

This was the second lowest-scoring contest in the modern era of the series. Optimists will label it a defensive slugfest, a clash between bitter rivals who refused to lose. ISU players and coaches used the ”a win is a win” cliche over and over again afterward. The Iowa locker room was left wondering what might have been, even if the Hawkeyes should probably feel fortunate to be 1-1 and not 0-2 this morning.

Knott said he was in the ”right place at the right time” at the end. A positive spin on a long game that was finally put out of its misery. The effort was there, but the execution? Not so much.

It’s still a Cyclone state, but truth be told, both programs are better off getting this performance out of their system as quickly as possible. The sooner the better.