Iowa Football

Stat Pak: Iowa isn't bad, it's just that Wisconsin is that much better

Iowa's offense improved, but not quite enough; the defense got gouged by an elite rushing team

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Zack Baun (56) kisses the Heartland trophy while other players respond to heckling by Iowa fans in the fourth quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Zack Baun (56) kisses the Heartland trophy while other players respond to heckling by Iowa fans in the fourth quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Life in the rearview mirror isn’t really a life, not in football.

That’s where Wisconsin has Iowa.

Don’t walk away from Saturday night’s 28-17 loss to Wisconsin thinking the season is over. It’s obviously not. It’s just beginning.

Still, this will be another year that the Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) won’t beat No. 13 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0). That’s six of the last seven and eight of the last 11 now going toward the Badgers, who rode an elite performance from their elite running game to 210 rushing yards and a nearly 11-minute advantage in time of possession.

You can’t totally cross off the Big Ten West, but the Hawkeyes will now need Wisconsin to lose twice and will have to run the table. Or some combo where Wisconsin starts losing on a somewhat regular basis.

Considering that Saturday night was the Badgers’ 10th consecutive road win, 16th straight regular-season Big Ten victory and 18th win in their last 19 trophy games, that’s probably not going to happen.

That’s the global view for the Hawkeyes, who are on bye this week before hitting the road for the first time this season Oct. 6 at Minnesota.

Big things could be out there for these Hawkeyes, but not if ...

Punt return does that again.

Let’s mark down wide receiver Kyle Groeneweg’s fumble as a fluke. He was running and, yes, Iowa would’ve had killer field position around midfield.

But he dropped it. That happens. It was a blown opportunity, but Iowa’s defense did its job and kept Wisconsin off the board.

And then the inadvertent touch that really hurt.

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Sophomore tight end Shaun Beyer was doing his job and doing it well. He moved on to his second block during the punt return. The problem was he had no idea where the ball was. He didn’t hear Groeneweg, who was shoved downfield away from the ball, on whatever call Iowa uses for a punt that is a dead ball.

Beyer’s cleat tipped the ball and it was Wisconsin’s. It was a bad mistake born out of blind gung ho.

The Badgers scored three plays later. On third-and-goal from the 12, quarterback Alex Hornibrook hit wide receiver Danny Davis for a TD and a 14-10 lead.

Hornibrook and Davis beat corner Michael Ojemudia.

On the first play of the second quarter, Badgers fullback Alec Ingold beat linebacker Kristian Welch for a 33-yard gain to Iowa’s 6. Iowa was in a short-yardage defense. Ingold crossed Welch’s face and was free on a wheel route.

On the game-winning drive, Hornibrook beat outside linebacker Nick Niemann twice, including on the 17-yard pass to wide receiver A.J. Taylor to give the Badgers the lead for good.

Iowa’s defense has to take a big bite of this.

Yes, the defense kept Iowa in this, but it also let it out of the cage. And it’s not even the Badgers’ 4.8 yards per carry on 44 carries. It was the big passing plays in the big moments.

Badger fans have a lot of questions about their quarterbacks, and Hornibrook is no different. His airtight 17 of 22 for 205 yards and three TDs might win him the popular vote this week.

The Badgers have an elite offensive line. Iowa’s defensive line had 12 sacks going in. It did generate one, but the hits and pressures were hard to come by. Iowa finished with three hurries and one hit.

Coverage and rush need each other like chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream.

Play calls are a tougher onion to peel.

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You obviously know what doesn’t work. It’s easy to question that. What we don’t know is intent. Was something called to set up something later? Does Iowa even have that luxury?

What stands out is how Wisconsin is able to impose its will on offense and how Iowa looks like it's trying to pan for gold.

So, Iowa began the second quarter with a 19-yard run by running back Ivory Kelly-Martin. A few plays later, 13-yard pass to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

With a first down at UW’s 43, Iowa ran three times and ended up punting from the 42. Hindsight being 20/20, lining up running back Mekhi Sargent in the slot for a jet sweep on third-and-6 was probably a tell. The play went for minus-3.

With about 6 1/2 minutes left, Iowa had a chance to shut the door.

After a 22-yard completion to Nick Easley, Sargent gained 5 yards on first down at Iowa’s 47. Second down was a play-action pass that saw pressure and a late desperation throw to Smith-Marsette. The Badgers covered well. Third down was blown up by linebacker Ryan Connelly, who sneaked to the edge from the middle and came untouched at Stanley.

Stanley had to throw too early. The coverage was there. Smith-Marsette never had a chance.

Was the intent simply to give Wisconsin a long field with 5:40 left? Iowa did that. Wisconsin started its game-winning drive from the 12. Was the intent to drive the ball and score? Well, the pass calls to Smith-Marsette were going for it, right?

If Iowa gets that second-and-5, there are at least a few more minutes off the clock. It still would’ve come down to a stop that the Hawkeyes weren’t able to get, either.

Three Stars

1. Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook — I watched Baker Mayfield on Thursday night and thought, hey, if Iowa or Wisconsin can coax a performance somewhere near that out of its QBs, that team wins the game. Hornibrook was closer than Stanley.

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2. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor — He’s the best running back in the Big Ten, just like he was last year.

3. Wisconsin inside linebackers — Ryan Connelly got that late pressure on Stanley to give the Badgers a better last chance. He also had six tackles and a tackle for loss. T.J. Edwards had five tackles, a tackle for loss and picked off the Smith-Marsette tipped pass to turn out the lights in the fourth quarter.

The Numbers Game

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa — 2 of 4

Wisconsin — 3 of 3

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 4 of 5 (off), 1 of 2 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 1 of 3 (off), 0 of 1 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 5 of 6 (off), 2 of 2 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 2 of 4 (off), 3 of 3 (def)

The takeaway: You don’t want to say here is where the game was lost, but 7s that turn into 3s haunt you when you’re trying to overcome your arch rival in a blood bath.

 

Three and outs forced by the defense

Iowa — 3

Wisconsin — 1

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 5 (def), 5 (off); Week 2 vs. ISU — 6 (def), 4 (off); Week 3 vs. UNI — 3 (def), 0 (off); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 3 (def), 1 (off)

The takeaway: After the Badgers took their second drive 95 yards for a TD, Iowa forced punts on the next three, including a pair of three-and-outs. That was exactly what Iowa needed in that moment. The Badgers did, however, score TDs on three of their six second-half drives. One of those did, however, come after Iowa’s botched punt return gave UW a first down at Iowa’s 10.

 

Efficiency

(50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down)

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Iowa — 51.8 percent (28 efficient plays out of 54 total)

Wisconsin — 51.5 percent (34 of 66)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 34.2 percent (off), 38.8 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 29.6 (off), 26.7 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 58 (off), 33.8 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 51.8 (off), 51.5 (def)

The takeaway: The Badgers started fast and finished strong. Wisconsin put up 10 efficient plays in the first quarter and 12 in the fourth. The Badgers controlled the game with their elite offensive line and running back. Iowa wasn’t bad, but it didn’t come up big in the big moments. The Stanley miss of Hockenson late in the second half was a makable. At some point, that has to become a play Stanley makes in his sleep. It’s clearly not yet.

 

Explosive plays

(Runs of 12-plus yards; passes of 16-plus)

Iowa — 9 (7 passes, 2 runs)

Wisconsin — 9 (6 passes, 3 runs)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 6 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 2 (off), 2 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 9 (off), 9 (def)

The takeaway: Iowa’s tight end game was humming. T.J. Hockenson had three of these (24, 45, 46). Noah Fant had one (20-yard TD). Two explosive rushes from RB Ivory Kelly-Martin. The offense is getting better. Players are getting more comfortable in their roles. I mean 404 yards against this defense. It just wasn’t enough about the best program in the Big Ten West.

 

Halftime adjustments

(General idea of how busy the whiteboard is)

Iowa — First half: 24 plays for 203 yards and 8.5 yards per play.

Second half: 30 plays for 201 yards and 6.7 yards per play.

Wisconsin — First half: 32 plays and 184 yards for 5.75 per play.

Second half: 34 plays and 231 yards for 6.79 per play.

The takeaway: Iowa’s offense put up numbers, it just wasn’t able to do it consistently. Or not enough. And definitely not quite enough in the big moments. Wisconsin’s offense got to the cumulative effect and got stronger as the game went on. That’s classic Wisconsin and that still is Iowa — or maybe what Iowa wants to be — just not against Wisconsin.

 

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Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 0

Wisconsin — 14

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 0 (off), 14 (def)

The takeaway: The Badgers came up big in the big moments of the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line. That’s why they’re kings of the West. Iowa 2018 still is working on this. By the way, the fact that the number is zero for the offense, that’s telling too, of course.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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