MADISON, Wis. — A week after climbing Mount Everest, the Hawkeyes fell down a well and still might be falling. Past oil. Past dinosaur bones. All the way down to that solid iron ball that is the earth’s core.
Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson had two pick sixes. That was as good as it got for No. 20 Iowa (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) during a 38-14 clubbing at the hands of the No. 8 Badgers (10-0, 7-0).
The Badgers held Iowa to 66 yards of total offense, the fewest yards the Badgers have ever allowed to a Big Ten opponent. Running back Jonathan Taylor grew any sort of Heisman Trophy momentum he has with 157 yards. The victory gave the Badgers their second straight Big Ten West Division title. They’ll face whoever survives in the East in Indianapolis on Dec. 2.
Last week, the Hawkeyes beat Ohio State for the first time since 2004. Also in 2004, Iowa traveled to Arizona State and generated just 100 yards of offense. That low stood until Saturday night before 80,462 at Camp Randall Stadium.
If there’s anything between the 100 at Arizona State and the 66 on Saturday, it happened before 1996 and you might need a shovel to dig it out.
Iowa needs a shovel. You know why.
“These guys are playing at a really high level and we weren’t able to match that,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The only good thing I can spin out of that is last time we were that low (Arizona State 2004), we won the league championship. Maybe something good will come out of this the next two weeks.”
Not if the Hawkeyes play like this on offense. And if you look at the next two weeks, no, it’s not Ohio State and Wisconsin, it’s Purdue and Nebraska, two programs that will be out for season-makers against the Hawkeyes.
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“Certainly feels like it right now,” UW coach Paul Chryst said when asked if this was the best defensive performance he’s seen out of the Badgers program. “Like I said, it was fun to watch. Not only the performance but some of the situations that they were put into. Guys all had great energy to them, and, boy, there were some plays made.”
No, 66 yards total offense. That’s it. Quit looking for more yards. That’s not a mistake.
A week after five TD passes against Ohio State, quarterback Nate Stanley was stymied. He completed 8 of 24 for 41 yards. He had a fumble and endured a miscommunication on a snap that led to linebacker Leon Jacobs’ heads-up fumble recovery and 21-yard return for a TD that gave the Badgers 24-14 lead with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
“A little disappointed,” Stanley said. “But like I said, we’re just going to move on, learn from it and push forward the next few weeks.”
With the Jacobs fumble return, finally, Wisconsin was able to pull away from Jackson.
The junior returned an Alex Hornibrook pass 43 yards for a TD on the game’s first series. He did it again with 11:18 left in the third quarter, this time from 52 yards and pulling the Hawkeyes within 17-14.
Jackson was hardly in the mood to celebrate in the postgame. On Monday, he could be the nation’s leader in interceptions (seven) and passes defended (23).
“We just wanted to do our job, worry about us and try to make stops to get the offense the ball,” Jackson said. “That’s really what our job is. We tried to do that the best we could.”
The Jacobs play started the pull-away fracture. Also, Iowa was going to have to go back on offense, whether it wanted to or not.
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“I thought it was fun,” said linebacker T.J. Edwards, whose third-quarter interception stopped Iowa’s best drive of the day, which was six plays and 33 yards. “Going into the game we had a simple game plan and it was kinda just guys flying around and being comfortable in what they’re doing.”
Fun and comfortable.
“We were confident in everything we were doing and we didn’t think they would be able to move it on us,” linebacker Ryan Connelly said.
Confident. The Badgers were all of that.
This might not have been the worst game of the Ferentz era score-wise, but these numbers scream painful, ugly death and, if you’re a glutton for misery, you can go ahead and have the “worst game of the Ferentz era” debate. Probably with yourself. You’re going to find a lot of agreement ... probably with yourself.
Five first downs. Eight completions. Forty-one yards passing.
Iowa was held to 66 total yards. Iowa’s offense went into this season with a lot of moving parts and there is a lot of youth in this lineup. From the Everest moment last week to being a party favor for a neighbor, it’s such a whiplash.
But 66 yards.
That number is going to ring out in college football this week. The Badgers will have their College Football Playoff blood pressure taken on Tuesday night. This defensive effort and those 66 yards are the Badgers’ best argument for CFP-worthiness.
Iowa will try to focus on Purdue.
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