MADISON, Wis. — The quarterback draw was installed on Tuesday. That was the Hawkeyes’ two-point conversion call this week. It was always going to be the call.
The umpire got in the way. The middle linebacker saw it too late and ended up facing away from the play and pushing against Nate Stanley with his back. The free safety cleaned up with a massive shot on Stanley that stopped him in his tracks.
One yard short.
The No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) needed the two-point conversion to tie No. 13 Wisconsin with three minutes left. The umpire got in the way. Running back Mekhi Sargent might’ve been able to block linebacker Chris Orr. Iowa didn’t account for free safety Eric Burrell, but he finished the play and, ultimately, the Hawkeyes, 24-22, before 78,018 at Camp Randall Stadium.
Even with the Badgers (7-2, 4-2) hitting 300 rushing yards, even with interstellar running back Jonathan Taylor rushing 31 times for 250 yards, it came down to a QB draw that might’ve worked, but the umpire got in the way and Burrell clacked the lights out of Stanley.
“We felt good about it, that was our game plan,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “ ... I guess I understand the umpire screened one of our blockers. That’s football and everyone has a job to do. It’s pretty crowded down there.”
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Stanley, who finished 17 of 28 for 208 yards and two TDs, needed a minute to pick himself off the turf, 1 painful yard short of a tie game, a game in which Iowa trailed 21-6 early in the fourth quarter. By the way, Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun said the Badgers had not prepared for the QB draw.
“Nate was going to meet a defender at the goal line and he’s 240 pounds and has a chance to make that play,” offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “I saw the hit, I heard it, it was a big collision. We all tried to get behind him and push him in, but we ended up on the side.
“Nate’s going to fight for us and we’re going to fight for him.”
Five Hawkeyes stepped to the lectern for postgame interviews. Each player showed the gouges this game took, emotional and the physical.
The emotions ranged from the sting of a lost opportunity to a brave eye toward next week’s matchup with No. 17 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0). You need a protractor to figure out Iowa’s chances in the Big Ten West Division. You don’t have a protractor. They don’t have a protractor.
Now, they only have next week’s fight.
“Offensively and defensively, we were scratching for every inch,” said defensive end A.J. Epenesa, whose strip sack gave Iowa first down at UW’s 16 and yielded only a field goal. “That’s the definition of fighting. Defense didn’t play to our standards. I thought the offense took a step forward and they never gave up and that really showed.”
It obviously wouldn’t have come down to a failed two-point run if Iowa, which was outgained 473 to 295 yards, didn’t heat up in the fourth quarter.
Stanley threw completions on a couple of third downs, including a 7-yard TD pass to wide receiver Nico Ragaini to pull within 21-16 with 9:27 left.
Iowa’s next drive lasted 11 seconds. Stanley hit wide receiver Tyrone Tracy on a post for a 75-yard TD, setting up the QB draw and the clack.
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“It’s a game of emotions, right. And you talk about a huge momentum play,” UW head coach Paul Chryst said. “To be able to go up in that, I think it speaks volumes. That’s a big quarterback. He goes from hitting a big play, touchdown, and now we have to get back at it. And I think that’s the game in a nutshell.”
There were still three minutes left and the Hawkeyes had two timeouts left.
This is where Taylor and the Badgers’ O-line squeezed the life out of the Hawkeyes. It wasn’t all grind time with the Badgers. QB Jack Coan hit wide receiver Quintez Cephus for a 52-yard gain and then finished the drive with a 27-yard TD to Cephus for the 21-6 lead.
With three minutes and two timeouts left and everyone in the stadium knowing what the Badgers would do, Taylor netted a first down on two carries and then broke a 42-yarder.
The Badgers erased the last three minutes, kept their hopes alive in the West and knocked off the Hawkeyes for the fourth straight time.
“A bunch,” said Stanley, when asked how much this one stung. “You really can’t put it into words.”
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