IOWA CITY, Iowa – Last week's loss at No. 14 Arizona was a deflating blow for Iowa, which many believed had a chance to go farther than any team in school history.
The truth is, the Hawkeyes could still make 2010 a year to remember if they don't let their disaster in the desert define their season.
No. 18 Iowa (2-1) gets its first chance to bounce back when it hosts Ball State (1-2) on Saturday, its final non-conference tuneup before Big Ten play.
"We got beat. Straight up, we got beat, and had a lot of things that led to that defeat. How we respond is going to be really important," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We're not going to win in our conference doing some of the things we did the other night. It's just not going to work. And it won't work this Saturday either."
Not much worked for Iowa against Arizona, which turned a blocked punt into a quick touchdown and took an interception and a kickoff back for TDs.
The Wildcats scored 21 points off Iowa mistakes in a 34-27 victory that put them on the national radar and pushed the Hawkeyes off of it, at least for now.
Fixing Iowa's shaky special teams was on the top of Ferentz's list to-do list this week. But there are also concerns at running back.
The Hawkeyes have a good one in sophomore Adam Robinson, who has 270 yards rushing and four touchdowns this season.
But Robinson the only experienced back they have.
Jewel Hampton suffered a season-ending knee injury in Tucson. Little-used reserve Paki O'Meara is out as well, and Brandon Wegher's absence for personal reasons is starting to look like it will last all year.
A pair of true freshmen, Marcus Coker and De'Andre Johnson, are set to back up Robinson on Saturday, and both could burn their redshirts by game's end. Coker was injured in fall camp and Johnson has practiced mostly with the scout team, but Iowa has little choice but to play them now.
"They're both very eager and hungry to help the team," Robinson said. "You want guys that are going to be about the team."
Ball State is walking into a tough spot Saturday, regardless of Iowa's issues.
The Cardinals are four-touchdown underdogs to a ranked team with a lot to prove, and they're coming off losses to Liberty and shorthanded Purdue, 24-13, last week.
Ball State, which likes to run the ball, will rotate quarterbacks Keith Wenning and Kelly Page in an effort to improve a passing game that's averaging just 128 yards per game.
But the Cardinals lost their best lineman, left tackle Cameron Lowry, to a torn ACL in his left knee at Purdue. Lowry's absence could be especially glaring against Iowa's defensive line, which includes star ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns alongside tackles Christian Ballard and Karl Klug.
"The people in the stands, you have no idea what a huge loss that is for us," Ball State coach Stan Parrish said. "It really weakens our depth inside and our rotation in there. We can't take another hit in there."
The Hawkeyes, who let the likes of Northern Iowa and Arkansas State hang around much longer than they should have in 2009, rolled out to insurmountable halftime leads in convincing home wins over Eastern Illinois and Iowa State.
Iowa is no doubt looking for a fast start and a clean finish against Ball State, with an eye on repeating what it did in both 2002 and 2004. The Hawkeyes lost the third game of the season those years but went on to win a share of the Big Ten title.
"It's takes a bunch of guys that are resilient, which I think we have," Ferentz said. "It's just a matter of not thinking globally. Global thinking, that's for people smarter than us. We just need to worry what's in front of us."