116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If someone solely looked at Iowa’s offensive statistics from Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, they likely would not have expected the end result to be a 24-10 Iowa win.
The Hawkeyes averaged only 2.1 yards per play and finished with 146 total yards. Their longest drive went 39 yards, and it ended with a Spencer Petras fumble.
But a few key plays on defense and special teams elevated Iowa against its Heartland Trophy rival.
Here are a few takeaways after another look at the win over Wisconsin:
Wisconsin vs. Riley Moss
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was complimentary of his defense Saturday “outside of that one pass.”
That one Wisconsin pass he was referring to occurred near the end of the first half.
Iowa appeared to be in Cover 3 on a third-and-18 with 52 seconds until intermission. Cooper DeJean and Quinn Schulte were both deep as if it was a Cover 3 scheme, but Riley Moss was not.
Moss was caught creeping in to protect against a wide receiver on a crossing route. That left Wisconsin’s Keontez Lewis open. Graham Mertz connected with Lewis, and Schulte and Moss could not catch up to Lewis on the 51-yard touchdown pass.
While it’s plausible based on the TV feed for it to be bad safety placement on a Cover 2, Kaevon Merriweather hinted toward the Cover 3 likelihood in his postgame interview.
“Did you all interview Riley?” Merriweather said when asked about the play. “I’ll let you all ask him that.”
Outside of the one play, Moss looked the part as reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year. Wisconsin picked on him a game-high eight times, according to Pro Football Focus.
But only two of the other seven targets resulted in receptions, and they were for a combined nine yards.
He also had a diving interception after Merriweather tipped a pass in the second half.
Offensive line issues were widespread
Iowa’s offensive line appeared to take a step forward against Northwestern and Purdue, but the position group had a variety of shortcomings from essentially every position on the line.
“It was hard to give Spencer a good pocket to work off of, and we never really were consistent in the run game,” Ferentz said.
Petras took a career-high six sacks, three of which came from Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig.
The first Herbig sack came early in the first quarter on a third-and-10. Herbig easily evaded Iowa left tackle Mason Richman and a direct path to Petras. His hit jarred the ball loose.
Fellow Badger Darryl Peterson recovered the fumble, which set up one of Wisconsin’s two scoring drives of the day.
Later in the first quarter, Iowa right tackle Jack Plumb tried to cut down Herbig, who easily stepped to the left of Plumb and again had a straight shot to Petras for a sack.
Herbig’s third sack came despite Wisconsin only rushing three players. The likely NFL Draft prospect simply beat Plumb on the edge and quickly took down Petras.
While it officially counts as a tackle for no gain, Herbig had a play on the first drive that essentially functioned as a sack. Petras scrambled back to the line of scrimmage, but it had the same effect as a sack on a third-and-15.
Iowa’s offensive line qualms were more than just a result of Herbig’s havoc. He was one of seven different Badgers responsible for at least one tackle for loss.
By the time running back Leshon Williams received one of his handoffs, Wisconsin defensive lineman Rodas Johnson was already two yards ahead of the line of scrimmage and making a B-line to Williams.
The offensive line had some self-inflicted wounds, too.
Snap timing again was an issue at points in the game, including a late snap in the first quarter that resulted in a false start penalty.
A blatant holding penalty on Beau Stephens — he was trying to keep a defender from having a clear path to running back Kaleb Johnson — put Iowa in a first-and-20 hole. Even if the held defender took down Johnson, a second-and-13 is better than the second-and-20 and third-and-23 that Iowa instead faced.
Injuries could complicate the offensive line’s situation. Stephens and Plumb both suffered injuries in Saturday’s win.
Ferentz said afterward he thinks Plumb is “OK,” but “we’ll see” about Stephens.
“We'll know Tuesday probably,” Ferentz said.