MADISON, Wis. — Josh Jackson came to a postgame press conference here wearing a shirt with the wording “Ego is the Enemy.”
There’s not much the sensational Iowa junior cornerback is getting wrong these days, but that phrase wasn’t right. Ego wasn’t the Hawkeyes’ problem Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa was one grounded football team in a 38-14 loss to 10-0 Wisconsin. Literally grounded.
We knew Wisconsin had a top-shelf defense, but this? Holding the Hawkeyes to 66 yards and zero offensive points?
Offensive incompetence and the Badgers’ uber-competent defense were the enemies. Ego probably left the stadium after the third quarter and called an Uber to take it somewhere warmer and safer.
Really, 66 yards? Wow, you don’t see that from an Iowa team just any old half-century.
OK, let’s interrupt this postmortem to make sure we don’t shortchange Jackson. Two interception returns for touchdowns and a forced fumble? A two-game total of five picks and six forced turnovers against the two teams likely to collide in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State and Wisconsin?
An unprecedented two-game stretch from a Hawkeye defensive back. Utterly fantastic. OK, what were we talking about again?
Oh yeah, this mess of an offensive performance. Who’s to blame? Call it a team effort. When receivers weren’t dropping passes, which was frequently, quarterback Nate Stanley was throwing bad ones. Once, center James Daniels snapped the ball to Stanley when Stanley wasn’t looking for it, and Badger linebacker Leon Jacobs picked up the ball and ran it 21 yards to the end zone after it somehow squirted from underneath sprawling Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.
Nothing worked on offense. The quarterback went from Nate the Great in Iowa’s 55-24 blasting of Ohio State the week before in Iowa City to Stymied Stanley here. Mark Twain once said if you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes. You could say the same about college football.
Yet, the term “consistency” used by multiple Hawkeye players after the game as being something they need to attain. But they already have it. Iowa doesn’t have Wisconsin’s defense, but its ‘D’ deserves better than a 6-4 record. It has shown up for every Big Ten game, even against Penn State.
The offense has been consistent, too, but in the wrong way. It has five Big Ten games of under 20 points, five Big Ten games of under 315 yards.
That amazing thing against Ohio State the previous game was the outlier of outliers, a sky filled with orange stars, yellow moons, pink hearts and green clovers. This was back to the dull gray clouds we saw from the Hawkeyes’ offense the other two times they left Iowa’s borders, as well as in a few games at Kinnick Stadium.
Adding to the consistency theme, this was the Badgers’ fifth win in the last six games against Iowa. By clinching the Big Ten West title Saturday, Wisconsin will go to its fifth league championship game in the seven-year history of the event. Iowa has been to one.
“It’s been pretty much a back-and-forth series,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game. It has, but not in this decade.
Maybe next year an Iowa offense with more seasoning will play much better against the Badgers in Kinnick, and will hang with them longer in the West title race. But that will require the Hawkeyes elevating their game. Slippage is no more part of Wisconsin football than the West Coast offense or everyone in the stands staying seated between the third and fourth quarters.
“Their defense was better than advertised,” Ferentz said, “not that they haven’t been playing well all season long, but I can’t imagine they’ve played a better game than that.”
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“We were confident in everything we were doing,” said Badger linebacker Ryan Connelly, “and we didn’t think they would be able to move it on us.”
Last week against Ohio State was and forever will be Woodshed, Iowa. This day, the Hawkeyes were pulling splinters out of their backsides as they bused home from this house of pain.