MADISON, Wis. — A lot came crashing down on Nate Stanley after the Hawkeyes’ best shot at the Badgers.
No. 23 Iowa’s chances in the Big Ten West were wiped away when linebacker Chris Orr and safety Eric Burrell met Stanley at the goal line with 3:12 left and the Hawkeyes needing to convert the two-point attempt to tie the game.
Pads and helmets and body parts thudded, just like always when it’s Iowa and Wisconsin, and the No. 15 Badgers hung on to a 24-22 win at Camp Randall Stadium.
Stanley, a three-year starter, saw the championship portion of his senior season end. The play hurt. Physically. How many times has Stanley been hit in his career and how many times has he stayed down?
Can’t think of any, can you?
“This is really disappointing,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Nobody is more invested than Nate. I don’t want to put him at the top of the heap, because that’s unfair to some other guys, too, but he’s so invested. It hurts to lose. There’s no getting around it. There’s nothing I can say, there’s nothing anyone can say to make it feel better.
“But he’s also a first-class guy and a really tough competitor. He’s going to get back on his feet and we’re going to need him to.”
It’s pig time at Kinnick Stadium this week, and this isn’t your regularly scheduled Gophers.
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Minnesota knocked off Penn State in a battle of unbeatens last weekend in Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter, the Gophers' official Twitter accounted tweeted simply “Played somebody” with the 31-26 score.
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck got a contract extension last week. The Gophers are ranked No. 7 in the country. They’ll likely be favored at Kinnick, where they haven’t won since 1999.
While processing the loss and the end of championship hopes, the Hawkeyes could hear the voice in the back of their heads and, yes, it probably sounded a lot like P.J. Fleck.
“We know we can’t hang our heads,” said Stanley, whose two fourth-quarter TD passes pulled the Hawkeyes back from a 21-6 deficit. “We know we have another tough game next week. We know we have to come back and learn from it and get ready.”
To a man, they loved the quarterback draw call on the PAT. The offense heard how physical the play was.
“I saw it, I heard it, it was a big hit,” offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “We all know Nate is going to fight for us, and we’re going to fight for him. I don’t know a lot of quarterbacks, but I know Nate is going to put his shoulder down and try to get in there for us and that’s what he did.”
Yes, the offense remains broken.
The Hawkeyes had 40 passing yards when they fell behind 21-6 on Jack Coan’s 27-yard TD pass to Quintez Cephus with 2:16 left in the third quarter. The running game is RIP this year. It finished with 87 yards on 23 carries. When the Hawkeyes have been held to less than 100 rushing yards in the last five seasons, they are 1-15 (last year’s Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State is the lone survivor).
Down 21-6, the offense opened up. It went quick tempo and caught the Badgers flat footed. Stanley completed 6 of 7 for 69 yards, including a 3-yard TD pass to wide receiver Nico Ragaini to pull Iowa within 21-13.
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After a 10-play drive for a field goal, Stanley hit wide receiver Tyrone Tracy for a 75-yard TD to shave the game down to the two-point conversion. Tracy lit up the second half with five catches for 130 yards.
The bad thing is it took a dire circumstance to summon what was too little, too late.
“In the first half, I thought things were going OK, except we couldn’t finish drives,” Ferentz said, pointing to a fumble on a QB-center exchange that Wisconsin turned into a TD. “In the second half, it was a matter of how many possessions were we going to get. They lead the league in time of possession and added to that today, unfortunately. That was our thinking there.”
It was a bad week for the defense to put out its worst game tape of the season. Wisconsin rushed for 300 yards (most since 316 vs. Indiana in 2014). Running back Jonathan Taylor went for 250 of that.
Minnesota is second in the Big Ten with 37.6 points a game. It’s third in total offense with 432.9 yards per game. The Gophers have two top-five wide receivers in the Big Ten, with Rashod Batemen (whose 22.3 yards per catch on 38 receptions is fifth in the nation) and Tyler Johnson (whose 50 receptions is third in the league). They both have eight TD catches.
“They are undefeated right now and playing good football,” defensive end Chauncey Golston said.
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