IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Northern Iowa's near-upset of Iowa three years ago was one of the more stunning afternoons the Hawkeyes have ever had.
Hardly anyone would be shocked if the Panthers finish the job in Iowa City on Saturday.
Northern Iowa (1-1) of the FCS made a serious run at two-time Big Ten champion Wisconsin in Madison two weeks ago before losing 26-21. Iowa (1-1) struggled to get past Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference 18-17 before a dismal offensive showing in a 9-6 loss at home to Iowa State last week.
The Panthers are 9-22 against FBS opponents since 1985. That stretch included that 17-16 loss at Iowa in 2009 in which the Hawkeyes blocked potential game-winning field goals on back-to-back plays, an NCAA first, to survive.
That Iowa team went on to win the Orange Bowl.
These Hawkeyes, at least so far, look like they'll be lucky to even reach a bowl.
"We just go back to 2009, in effect, we were really fortunate to win that ballgame. We all knew that coming off the field," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "UNI has had a history of going, traveling anywhere, and playing extremely well against anybody."
Playing well against Iowa hasn't seemed all that difficult in 2012.
The Hawkeyes are tied for 114th out of 124 teams and last in the Big Ten with just 12 points per game. They are last in the league in pass efficiency and total offense.
Iowa's impotent attack has been a bit of a head scratcher. The Hawkeyes brought back quarterback James Vandenberg and receivers Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley from a unit that scored 27.1 points in 2011. The offense simply hasn't clicked under new coordinator Greg Davis.
"You can't start forcing stuff. It's going to come," said Vandenberg, who has yet to throw a TD pass this season. "I've got to do a better job. We've got to be able to get the ball down the field and get the ball in the end zone."
If there's hope for these Hawkeyes, it lies with their defense.
Iowa has been very good so far on that side of the ball, easing concerns after a shaky performance — at least by Iowa's lofty standards — in 2011. The Hawkeyes have allowed just seven points in the second half this season, and none yet in the fourth quarter.