Iowa Football

Wisconsin 28, Iowa 17: Second-and-5 and left the door open

Wisconsin gets a night from its QB and rides to Madison with everything

IOWA CITY — It all set up for Iowa. The Hawkeyes had the Badgers, they had a bye after the Badgers. It all set up perfectly.

It’s just that the Badgers have their fangs sunk deep into the Big Ten West and it’s not leaving their jaws just yet.

Deep in the fourth quarter, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley tried to hit wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette with a blitz crashing in. The ball went off Smith-Marsette’s hands and flipped up into the air.

And Iowa’s third turnover ended the evening.

Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards gathered in the interception, and the Badgers happily took what amounts to a two-game lead in the Big Ten West, the Heartland Trophy and the Hawkeyes’ hearts back to Madison on a bus.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook had just about a perfect night, completing 17 of 22 passes for 205 yards and three TDs to lift No. 16 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) over the Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1), 28-17, before 69,250 fans at Kinnick Stadium.

“I thought he was really good and played good all night,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “I was proud of how the team responded.”

The two-game lead thing is the tiebreaker the Badgers now hold over the Hawkeyes. The Badgers took advantage of two special teams turnovers and scored 14 points on three Iowa turnovers.

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“When you play Wisconsin, possessions are at a real premium,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So we squandered a couple opportunities on that front and ended up paying for that at the end, too.”

The Badgers have now won six of seven in the series. Running back Jonathan Taylor added 117 yards on 25 carries.

Iowa did put together drives it hadn’t put together this season.

The big one was in the third quarter. The Hawkeyes started at their 25. The drive didn’t come with any big booms, it just kind of buzzed and clipped along.

There was an 8-yard completion to tight end Noah Fant that was pumped up by a late hit penalty, but this was the Iowa offense imposing its will.

Running back Toren Young carried for 9 yards and then for 10. Fullback Brady Ross caught a ball out of the backfield for 11 yards down to Wisconsin’s 1.

From there, a 1-yard TD from Stanley to Fant, his second of the night, and it was 17-14 Hawkeyes with 1:37 left in the third quarter.

That score stayed on the board for a while.

Iowa had a second-and-5 from its 42 after running back Mekhi Sargent gained 5 yards on first down. Two pass incompletions later, the door was open for the Badgers.

“We had a couple opportunities to sustain drives in the second half, but to their credit, too, when they had that opportunity they took it and went and it was a beautiful drive on their part,” Ferentz said. “And we gave up a big play on that possession and that was a tough play for us there.”

It looked like the Hawkeyes had a broken coverage on a second-and-5 and Hornibrook hit a wide-open wide receiver A.J. Taylor for a 28-yard gain, giving the Badgers first down at Iowa’s 43.

Hornibrook kept a pretty great night going. On back-to-back plays, he found tight end Jake Ferguson on linebacker Nick Niemann and then he found Taylor isolated on Niemann for the 17-yard TD with 57 seconds left.

“I’m not sure what I said, it wasn’t too complicated,” Hornibrook said about his speech in the huddle for the game-winning drive. “Everybody knew what we had to do and we just locked it in and got the drive going.”

Hornibrook had the night the Badgers needed him to have. Iowa almost got that night from Stanley and an offense that hadn’t really totally come through yet this season.

Just as it did last year, punt return really unraveled on the Hawkeyes.

Senior Kyle Groeneweg had a pretty great return on his first try. The rest was a minus. He just sort of lost the ball on a punt return late in the first half that would’ve given Iowa field position around midfield. Wisconsin gathered that unforced error for a fumble recovery on the Iowa sideline.

The Badgers recovered, but the defense kept that mistake from taking root. The defense couldn’t save the punt return team on its second crucial mistake.

Groeneweg got caught up trying to judge whether or not he could catch it. One Hawkeye almost ran into the ball. Tight end Shaun Beyer came flying in and did tip the ball with his foot. The Badgers recovered at Iowa’s 10.

On third-and-12, wide receiver Danny Davis sold the fade to Iowa corner Michael Ojemudia and Hornibrook went back shoulder for a 12-yard TD and a 14-10 Wisconsin lead with 5:12 left in the third quarter.

The Hawkeyes looked lost at a couple of different spots in the first half.

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On their first drive, the Hawkeyes drove to Wisconsin’s 5. Iowa has run that QB sneak at a fairly efficient level through the years. It doesn’t seem like it’s something Stanley is comfortable with. Wisconsin stopped the sneak and really took over at its 5.

The Badgers' first four plays of the drive were rushes for 8, 7, 6 and another 7. Taylor rumbled for 80 yards on 15 carries in the first half.

On a third-and-7 from the Badgers’ 36, Hornibrook hit Ferguson for 17 yards. And then on a third-and-2 from Iowa’s 39, Iowa lined up in a cover 0 and inserted six defensive linemen into the game. Of course, Hornibrook passed, and fullback Alec Ingold ran a perfect wheel route, beating linebacker Kristian Welch and collecting a perfect pass for a 33-yard gain to Iowa’s 6.

Iowa called a timeout to try to reset the defense. But just as it worked on the Ingold play, UW called a play-action pass and Hornibrook buzzed a line drive to Ferguson for an easy 6-yard TD and a 7-0 Wisconsin lead with 14:31 left in the second quarter.

Kind of fitting along with the QB sneak, Iowa called a jet sweep on a third-and-6 and lost 3 yards. Iowa punted. After allowing a 95-yard drive, it was totally advantage Wisconsin.

On a third-and-9 from Wisconsin’s 39, Stanley faced a rush and kind of broke the “no weak and late ball over the middle” rule. He threw a pop fly late and Hockenson sort of boxed out and, despite two pass interference flags, caught the pass for a 46-yard gain to UW’s 20.

Next play, tight end Noah Fant broke wide open in the end zone. Stanley found him for a 20-yard TD and it was tied 7-7 with 5:15 left in the half.

Iowa’s defense came alive late in the first half. The Badgers set a physical tone. It took the Hawkeyes a few series before they settled in. The Badgers only had 5 yards on their last two drives of the half.

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

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