The quality that defined the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2009 disappeared for them this season.
Where did Iowa's crunch-time mojo go?
It's a question that haunts coach Kirk Ferentz and his players as they endured a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Iowa blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten losses and allowed late touchdowns in all five of its defeats. A senior-laden team seemed to lose its magic touch and never regained it.
The most puzzling thing about Iowa is that unlike last year's squad, the 2010 Hawkeyes looked dominant at times. They crushed teams like Iowa State and Penn State and delivered a 37-6 knockout of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. It seemed like the Hawkeyes would be rolling after stomping the Spartans, but instead they backslid throughout the month of November, squeaking out a win at Indiana before dropping their final three games.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers for most of the season and avoided the major mistakes that dogged him throughout 2009. But like his teammates, Stanzi wasn't immune from the late-game struggles this fall. Iowa's defense dominated for stretches but didn't have quite the production it expected from the front four and really missed linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds as well as cornerback Amari Spievey. Perhaps most surprising were Iowa's problems on special teams, which surfaced in the losses to both Arizona and Wisconsin.
Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi improved in every major statistical category except the one that he cares about the most -- win-loss record. The senior passed for 2,804 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions, ranking 11th nationally in quarterback rating (160.5). After tossing 15 interceptions in 2009, four of which were returned for touchdowns, Stanzi had just two picks and 19 touchdown passes through the first two months of the 2010 season. Running back Adam Robinson merits a mention here.
Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have the dominant senior season many had expected, but No. 94 brought a formidable presence to the defensive line. Clayborn commanded double-teams and allowed teammates like Karl Klug and Mike Daniels to rack up numbers. Clayborn finished the season with seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Daniels, safety Tyler Sash cornerback Shaun Prater merit mentions here.
Turning point: Iowa opened Big Ten play at 2-0 and had a banged-up Wisconsin team on the ropes Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium. But the Badgers shocked Iowa with a fake punt deep in Wisconsin territory and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ferentz botched the time management in the final seconds as Iowa fell 31-30. Another turning point arrived Nov. 13, as Iowa squandered a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead against nemesis Northwestern and fell 21-17.
What's next: The Hawkeyes will try to regroup and send their decorated senior class out with a win in the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Despite being in bordering states, the two schools haven't met since 1910. Iowa has won back-to-back bowls and really could use a win before an offseason of retooling on both sides of the ball begins.