116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MADISON, WIS. — Iowa’s offense was technically in Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. But its performance gave the impression some of the unit was still at a rest stop along Highway 151.
The meager offensive performance halted the No. 9 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2) against the unranked Wisconsin Badgers (5-3, 3-2), losing 27-7 and endangering the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten West title aspirations.
“We certainly have work to do,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Iowa’s offense had a disastrous first half, fumbling more often than picking up a first down.
The Hawkeyes’ first six drives ended in either three-and-outs or turnovers.
That included two drives ending in fumbles inside their own 10-yard-line.
The usually-sound special teams unit had a fumble, too. With the normal returner Charlie Jones out for part of the first half, Max Cooper muffed a punt, giving Wisconsin the ball on the Iowa 18-yard-line.
The offense showed a little bit of life in the second half, but the unit still did not have a play for longer than 23 yards until the final few minutes, when the game was well out of reach.
A 17-yard punt return by Jones in the third quarter set up a six-play, 40-yard touchdown drive that ended with a sneak by quarterback Spencer Petras.
The offense had a few chances to make the game more competitive in the third quarter.
“In that third quarter, we came out and played,” Ferentz said. “Our guys were fighting. We had a chance to win the football game, or at least get right back in it.”
But the Hawkeyes could not take advantage, curbing any comeback enthusiasm.
Iowa had the ball on the Wisconsin 40-yard-line in the third quarter on fourth-and-1, but Monte Pottebaum’s fullback dive came inches short of a first down. Wisconsin then marched the ball 60 yards on a six-minute drive to expand its lead to 27-7.
“Needless to say, we thought it was the best call,” Ferentz said, “and needless to say, it wasn’t successful.”
Wisconsin’s six sacks also forced the Hawkeyes into many third-and-long situations.
“If you’re getting sacked six times, you’re not going to win,” Ferentz said.
Petras said the Badgers did not do anything with their blitzes that the offense wasn’t expecting.
“We had seen that on film,” Petras said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of making them pay for it.”
Iowa’s running game, which has been one of the least efficient in the Big Ten in 2021, had one of its worst performances. It rushed for 24 yards on 30 attempts.
Petras had a disappointing day, too, completing just 9 of 19 passes for 93 yards. He did not find the end zone through the air for the second consecutive game after five straight games with at least one touchdown.
Iowa safety Jack Koerner said it was a “team loss at the end of the day,” though.
“If we’re getting put into tough situations, so be it,” Koerner said. “If we lost the game 50-49, we wouldn’t expect the offense to say anything to us.”
Iowa’s defensive streak of 29 games without surrendering more than 25 points came to an end.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, who entered play with two touchdowns and seven interceptions, enjoyed an uncharacteristically efficient start to the game against Iowa’s short-handed secondary.
He completed nine of his first 10 passes. That didn’t last long, though. The junior quarterback then hit just two of his next 12 passes.
Koerner attributed the change to Iowa playing “our fundamentals a little bit better.”
“We weren’t as tight earlier in the game,” Koerner said. “We started to kind of hone it in a little bit, and it started to show. It’s too bad we couldn’t have gotten that going sooner in the game.”
Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen, a 17-year-old true freshman, was particularly effective on the ground against one of the schools that recruited him. He ran for 104 yards on 20 carries.
“He’d be impressive at age 21, too,” Ferentz said.
The Iowa turnovers did not help matters for the defense, either.
The Badgers scored 10 points off the three first-half drives starting in the red zone and came inches short of making that 17 points.
Iowa’s average drive started at its own 27-yard-line. Wisconsin’s started at its own 41.
Iowa has lost eight of its last 10 games against the Badgers and will face another Big Ten team that has given the Hawkeyes fits next week — Northwestern. The Wildcats have won four of the last five games against Iowa.
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