116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MADISON, Wis. — On one sideline Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium was the 39-year-old coordinator of a defense ranked No. 2 in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Jim Leonhard’s unit couldn’t help the Badgers win the three games it lost against Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan because of their inefficiency on offense. They uncharacteristically were ranked last in the Big Ten in turnover margin before Saturday.
On the other sideline was the 38-year-old coordinator of an offense that came here with the ranking of 120th in total offense that tumbled to 124th after gaining a woeful 156 yards against that Wisconsin defense. Just 30 of it in the first half when the game got away.
Iowa won its first six games and rocketed to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 because its defense led the nation in takeaways and overcame the inefficiency of Brian Ferentz’s offense.
Leonhard was once a 5-foot-8 walk-on out of a tiny Wisconsin town called Tony. He was a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back for the Badgers in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He didn’t get placed on scholarship until after his junior season.
He was an undrafted player who had a 10-year, 142-game NFL career, then returned to Madison in 2016 as defensive backs coach for Paul Chryst.
Leonhard was promoted to coordinator a year later, the same year Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz promoted his eldest son from offensive line coach to coordinator.
Leonhard’s defense overwhelmed Brian Ferentz’s offense Saturday in Wisconsin’s 27-7 win, and the Badgers are 4-1 against the Hawkeyes with those two as coordinators.
Wisconsin’s defense didn’t have to again try to dig the Badgers out of a hole, because the Hawkeyes were the team with three turnovers this day while the Badgers had nary a one.
When Iowa was stacking six straight victories, it was doing all the taking. Its last two games, one-sided losses to Purdue and here in which it scored seven points both times, it’s been painfully obvious that when its defense doesn’t set up scores or score itself, the points come in a trickle.
It isn’t as if Iowa’s offense has been an annual display of drudgery. Just last season, the team was second in the Big Ten with 31.8 points per game, and with the same starting quarterback as this year in Spencer Petras. Iowa is 39-16 with Brian Ferentz as the OC, and had a 12-game win streak not very many days ago.
But a program that once thought of itself as Offensive Line U rather than Tight Ends U has an offensive line that is failing even with a center in Tyler Linderbaum who could win the Rimington Trophy.
It was a very heady September and first half of October for the Hawkeyes. They seemed to have a legitimate chance of reaching the College Football Playoff. Yet, many near and far wondered if Iowa could survive without sustaining offense at some point.
With two weeks to prepare for this game, knowing it had O-line deficiencies, Iowa produced nothing resembling an adequate response. We enter November quite aware it’s far better to start a season 0-2 and get to 6-2 as last year’s Hawkeyes did rather than to begin 6-0 only to crash and burn two straight weeks.
“We allowed over 150 rushing yards (170), which is not like us,” Iowa defensive tackle Noah Shannon said.
Yeah, but the Hawkeyes also surrendered just 271 total yards, a winning number. They would have held Wisconsin to a low point total were it not for their team’s three lost second-quarter fumbles inside their 20. This would have been 38-7 had the Badgers fully cashed those chances.
Iowa doesn’t bring coordinators to postgame interview sessions. Its head coach said this:
“I’m sure our fans are frustrated right now and they want the best for our football team. We appreciate that. And we certainly have work to do.”
That could start with figuring out how to get 2 yards over two plays after cutting the opponent’s lead to 20-7 in the third quarter with the defense forcing three consecutive Wisconsin three-and-outs.
Iowa had momentum and a 3rd-and-2 at the Wisconsin 41 with less than five minutes left in the third. Fullback Monte Pottebaum was given the handoff and ran for 1 yard. On fourth-and-1, it was Pottebaum again. Nothing.
“Needless to say, we thought it was the best call,” Kirk Ferentz said, “and needless to say, it wasn’t successful.”
Just like when Iowa had a third-and-2 at the Purdue 11 in the fourth quarter two weeks earlier, and got 1 yard and then zero on two Petras keepers.
The Green Bay Packers tried to lure Leonhard from Madison last winter to become their defensive coordinator. That would have done the Badgers dirty and been a godsend to Iowa. Needless to say.
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