IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa was never going to win the game, anyway. Not after committing five turnovers, mismanaging the clock, its timeouts, the halftime show and spotting the nation's No. 2 team a 32-point lead.
But Iowans know how to plant seeds.
So after Ohio State held on to win an important Big Ten game on Saturday, defeating Iowa, 38-26, before 70,397 at Kinnick Stadium, Hawkeye hecklers streamed onto the field and started to sprinkle a few ideas at the Buckeyes' feet.
"Michigan's going to beat you anyway," one screamed at freshman linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer.
Victory was not five minutes old and already Iowans were hitting Ohio State where it counts.
"We don't play Michigan next week," Katzenmoyer said later, "so it doesn't matter."
It is the curse of the Buckeyes that everything they do is pegged to a game they lost last November and one they might lose next month.
Ohio State had buried a top-20 team on the road, amassed 343 total yards, unveiled a backup tailback, Joe Montgomery, who rushed for 160 yards in 15 carries, but all anybody wanted to know was how it was going to wash against Michigan.
Truth is, the Buckeyes, 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten, are again streaking into November, same as last year, as the nation's second-ranked team, same as last year, with apparently only Michigan left to stop them.
Same as last year.
Last year, of course, Ohio State was 11-0 before the Michigan game, ready to wreck the alliance's plans, until the Wolverines pulled the national championship plug.
So when Ohio State Coach John Cooper remarked of Iowa, "I think we had chances to put them away but let them live too long," you wondered if Saturday's second-half lapse was an early-warning Michigan meltdown alert.
You check the Buckeyes' barometer the last three weeks: After dominating Notre Dame and Penn State on consecutive Saturdays almost a month ago, the Buckeyes have squeaked out a three-point victory against Wisconsin, spotted Purdue 14 points early before rallying big and allowed Iowa to get back in a game it had no business being in.
A great victory?
"I've been around long enough to know not to complain about a 12-point victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes on the road," Cooper said.
Nitpickers will note, though, that the Buckeyes mostly feasted on the kindness of strangers.
Iowa (5-2, 3-1) needed to play a perfect game to beat Ohio State but opted instead for the ol' banana peel routine.
Four of Ohio State's five touchdowns, and its field goal, were set up by mistakes by the Hawkeyes, who entered with the nation's seventh-best turnover margin at plus-eight.
Tied 3-3, the game turned late in the first quarter on a two-play sequence. After Iowa quarterback Matt Sherman overthrew Demo Odems for what might have been a touchdown on third down, Nick Gallery's punt was blocked by Rob Kelly and recovered in the end zone by Kevin Griffin (Archie's nephew).
The onslaught was on.
Ohio State mounted only one drive it could call its own, a five-play, 83-yard, second-quarter march highlighted by left tackle Orlando Pace leading interference for Montgomery on a 50-yard run to the Iowa one-yard line.
The 330-pound Pace ended up 50 yards beyond the line of scrimmage blocking out the sun and everything else for defensive back Plez Atkins, who was giving away six inches and 150 pounds.
"His eyes got pretty big, yeah," Pace said of Atkins.
Montgomery finished the job with a one-yard run with 8:07 to play in the half to put Ohio State up, 31-3.
It was 31-6 at the half and more of the same to start the second, when Sedrick Shaw, from his 29, fumbled the ball back to Ohio State on the first play from scrimmage.
That led to Pepe Pearson's four-yard touchdown run and a 38-6 Buckeye lead.
Then Ohio State went conservative--Ohio State?--yielding 20 unanswered points, highlighted by a 19-yard touchdown run on a reverse by Tim Dwight and a brilliant, 86-yard punt return for a score by Dwight.
Michael Burger's one-yard touchdown run with 10:46 left cut the lead to 12 and made things interesting, although Ohio State players claimed they were never concerned.
"Not at all," cornerback Shawn Springs said.
Well, maybe a little.
Iowa got the ball back with 7:34 to play, but had burned two timeouts on successive plays on its previous drive. The Hawkeyes then exhausted three minutes on the clock to advance 21 yards, only to eventually lose the ball on downs.
"We obviously made too many mistakes in the first half to win the ball game," Coach Hayden Fry said. "It makes me wonder how well our football team could be if we eliminated those mistakes."
It made others wonder exactly where Ohio State is less than a month after stomping Notre Dame and Penn State.
Katzenmoyer swears the Buckeyes are a better team now.
Springs, the corner, isn't so sure.
Meanwhile, the losers' side is sowing doubt.
The Buckeyes have three relative breathers--Minnesota, at Illinois, at Indiana--before their Nov. 23 showdown in Columbus against you-know-who.
"I don't know what to say about this team," Springs said. "We just get it done."
"It" isn't done yet.