Here's the Thing: Northern Iowa

By Patrick Vint on September 14, 2018 at 8:09 am
It's a trap!

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The 2005 season hadn't gone quite as planned.  Iowa had dropped an early stunner against Iowa State and been blown out in the Horseshoe, but even after a late October loss to Michigan, there was a chance at a fourth consecutive ten-win season.  All Iowa would have to do was beat top 25-ranked Wisconsin at Camp Randall.

There was only one problem: Before Wisconsin, there was Northwestern, and despite leading by 17 points at the half, Iowa gave up a go-ahead touchdown in the game's final minute, and that was it.  The drama was gone when, of course, Iowa beat Wisconsin the next week.

Ah, yes, the trap game.  For a program that prides itself on destroying the dreams of top five teams that have the misfortune of entering Kinnick Stadium, Iowa is especially susceptible to the week-before trap game.  It happened in 2006 at Indiana.  It happened in 2007 in Ames.  The 2008 Illinois game, an inexplicable loss the week before the biggest win in the Ferentz era, remains a monument to the trap game.  2009 Northwestern (obviously, the Stanzi injury needs to be considered on that one, but it was a week before the de facto Big Ten title game).  2010 Northwestern.  2011 Minnesota.  Even last year, Iowa trailed North Texas at the half the week before Penn State and barely got past Minnesota the week before the Ohio State blowout.

Everyone is looking forward to next week, where Iowa and Wisconsin might well decide the Big Ten West before September has ended.  The Badgers have certainly looked beastly so far, but all the ingredients are there for another Iowa upset: Night game at Kinnick, top ten opponent, Kirk Ferentz on the sideline, the dastardly Badgers on the other.  Focus will shift to that game, the most anticipated of the offseason by miles, the second that Iowa finishes with Northern Iowa Saturday night.

There's just one problem: Iowa has to get through Northern Iowa first, and if you're putting any credence in Iowa's ability to knock off top-ranked teams for next week, you probably need to give some weight to Iowa's ability to struggle through the week before.  The tendency toward traps is strong enough that it forced losses to Gene Chizik, Terry Hoeppner and Ron Zook.  It's like gravity.  It's inescapable.

By all accounts, this isn't a vintage UNI team.  They lost their opener at Montana two weeks ago, and even the most objective Iowa fans seem to think they don't have the manpower at the line of scrimmage to hang with the Hawkeyes for 60 minutes.  And perhaps that is so, and perhaps Iowa steamrolls the Panthers on their way to next Saturday.  But if Iowa did that, it would be bucking history.  Don't lose sight of the objective tomorrow.  Don't start worrying about Jonathan Taylor and his line until Sunday morning.  Don't forget about gravity as you step onto those twigs covering a hole.  Don't fall into the trap.

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