Despite a reasonably competitive first quarter, the ultimate outcome was a comfortable 45-24 win for Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (stats here). IU's defense reeked for most of the day, especially in the first half. Still, just a day after the news that elite quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel would be looking elsewhere, Hoosier fans may have seen a glimpse of the future of IU's quarterback position. Tre Roberson, the first true freshman to start at QB for IU in over 30 years, completed 16 of 24 passes for 197 yards, and added 84 yards on the ground on 16 carries, and to my untrained eye, looked very comfortable on the field. There were occasional freshman moments, of course (briefly lining up behind someone other than the center, a fumbled snap, etc.), but Roberson generally looked like, well, the future.
Of course, none of that changes the reality for this season. IU's seventh loss formally established what has been pretty clear since the loss to Ball State: this team is not going to a bowl game. IU remains winless in the Big Ten and against FBS competition, and has lost five in a row since its lone win over South Carolina State. The defense was simply brutal on Saturday, particularly when it mattered. Iowa scored a touchdown on each of its first half possessions and led 35-14 at the break. The defense played moderately better in the second half, but by then it didn't really matter. Iowa, for the game, averaged nearly 8 yards a play, thanks in part to a ruthlessly efficient passing game that accumulated 253 yards on 12-16. James Vandenberg and Marvin McNutt torched the Hoosiers' secondary for three long touchdowns. The one glimmer on defense was that the Hoosiers did provide some pressure, sacking Vandenberg 4 times, but obviously that pressure was not consistent enough to disrupt the Iowa offense.
I don't want to oversell Roberson's performance. IU scored only 14 non-garbage time points against an Iowa defense that isn't on par with the typical Hawkeye unit. Still, he completed two thirds of his passes on the road in the Big Ten against a reasonably talented defense. The only IU starting QB to have completed a higher percentage in any IU game this season is Edward Wright-Baker against FCS South Carolina State. Still, between Roberson, Houston, Kofi Hughes in the Wildcat formation, and the already-established group of receivers and tight ends hopefully can put something together as the season continues. IU has four games left: home games against Northwestern and Purdue sandwiching road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State. The two road games are all but hopeless. Northwestern is flailing at 2-5. Purdue played its best game of the year against Illinois and is now 4-3, but it remains to be seen whether Purdue's improvement is a trend. It's best to think about Northwestern first.