SPORTS

Stat Pak: Third-place game

Urgency and passing, probably start with that

Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) leaps over Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Greg Mabin (13) during the second half of their NCAA Big Ten Conference football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. Wisconsin won, 26-24. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) leaps over Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Greg Mabin (13) during the second half of their NCAA Big Ten Conference football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. Wisconsin won, 26-24. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

THE BULLET POINT FROM THE WISCONSIN RESULT

Saturday night’s loss to Wisconsin went down as the bitterest pill for everyone Iowa.

There was the angry fan in the Iowa press box who yelled at Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis to throw the ball downfield more after a listless first half. Security was called. Order was restored.

There were a few fights in the Kinnick Stadium bleachers during No. 14 Wisconsin’s knock down, drag out 26-24 victory over the Hawkeyes. Iowa coaches needed restraining on the sideline after a mix-up on where the ball needed to be set for a two-point conversion attempt after quarterback Jake Rudock’s 3-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.

Hey, everyone still cares.

Maybe everyone will show up for the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) season finale against Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) on Friday. If you miss it, you won’t see how Quinton Alston’s statement made in the emotional aftermath of the loss to the Badgers, which ended Iowa’s Big Ten West Division championship hopes, might play out on the field.

If this doesn’t get your curiosity piqued, then you’ve checked out and maybe see you next season.

“We’re going to turn all of this disappointment and anger, we’re going to unleash it on Nebraska,” senior linebacker Quinton Alston said. “I hope they’re ready. This is senior night and I’m not going out with a loss.”

This plays out as the third-place game in the West, with Wisconsin and Minnesota in the championship game Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Bowl positioning is on the line, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Iowa is likely locked into the Big Ten’s middle tier of bowls, which includes Music City/TaxSlayer, Foster Farms (San Fransisco) or Pinstripe (New York City), though Iowa could also still be in the running for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

It all will be decided Dec. 7, when the bowls will submit a 1-2-3 ranking of their preferences. Schools will in turn rank their preferred destinations. And then the Big Ten will make the match, based on creating desirable matchups (no rematches) and other parameters.

The bowl discussion is fine and interesting, but it doesn’t have the immediacy as Nebraska. It is a third-place game, but both teams had their championship hopes killed off last weekend and will desperately want some salve for fans, who, as you read above, are obviously edgy and just not in the mood for another loss to a border rival, at least in the Hawkeyes’ case.

Along those lines, where was that offense in the first half?

It’s a chicken-egg argument and one that wasn’t totally articulated in the postgame. But does that full-on, up-tempo passing attack happen without a 19-3 deficit? Probably not.

“Our goal is to be balanced,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You get into the flow of a game, and the game dictates what happens. I wouldn’t say we were confident we would run the ball, but we were sure planning on trying it and we worked at that. They do a good job of taking that away. They’re an excellent defensive team, players and coaches.

“And so we had to change the menu a little bit in that second half and it was anybody’s ballgame and we kind of made some plays in the passing game, which was good to see.”

They kind of made a lot of plays in the passing game, but it was all uphill after they abandoned the run (28 carries for 101 yards). On its first drive of the second half, after the defense came up with a stop, Iowa drove to Wisconsin’s 40 and tried running up the middle twice. That left a third-and-9 that wasn’t converted, and the Badgers drove for a field goal to make it 19-3 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

Iowa was in full desperation mode, reached for the passing game and it was there. Rudock had completions of 11, 31 and 20 to fuel a TD drive. Iowa made it 19-17 after completions of 28, 33 (back-to-back to start the drive), a pass interference and then Rudock’s 3-yard run.

After Wisconsin, which fell back into more zone coverage that Rudock picked apart, scored to make it 26-17, Rudock completed passes to running back Jordan Canzeri for 27 yards and then 23 yard to tight end Jake Duzey, again back-to-back to start the drive. The drive ended on a 9-yard TD pass to Duzey, but Iowa wouldn’t see the ball again.

Maybe that’s where Iowa starts this week, with a sense of urgency and with the ball in the air.

“It depends what we’re thinking coming in,” said Rudock, who finished 20 of 30 for 311 yards and two TDs. “Every game takes a left some, that’s the biggest thing to take away from that. You’ve got to push it more sometimes or slow it down a little more.”

Going off what Alston said, this is the time to push. This is past time to push.

THREE STARS

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon — Iowa made him work for it. The hit that safety Jordan Lomax put on him in the second half drew a stadium-wide audible gasp. Those have been few and far between in Kinnick the last few seasons. Gordon is the real deal. I can’t remember where I heard it, probably in the press box or in passing on the radio or TV or somewhere, but someone actually said it was the most boring 200 yards ever. Sure, but it was 200 yards on 31 carries, including a career-best 88-yard run, spoiled only by John Lowdermilk and Greg Mabin slowing and then stopping him just before TD. He also caught four passes for 67 yards, including a backbreaking 35-yard reception on a third-and-13 late in the fourth quarter. Brilliant player. I’m ready to check my Heisman ballot.

2. Wisconsin QB Joel Stave — This is the guy who basically didn’t play the first three games because he had the yips. The touch he put on the ball to Gordon was fairly delicate and deadly accurate. He completed 11 of 14 for 139 yards and rushed once for 12, which happened to convert a third-and-8 and seal the victory.

3. Iowa QB Jake Rudock — His second half was a “shut up” performance for critics. He completed 10 of 16 for 212 yards and two TDs. His first half wasn’t bad, either (10 of 14 for 99 yards). His worst play was an intentional grounding, but other than that, maybe one other miss? That’s about it. The rest of it was really great, just a bit too late to save the Hawkeyes.

Ferentz is right when he says Iowa has to be balanced. And let’s not let recency cloud the complete picture. Iowa has needed to lean on the passing game this year in deficit situations, and now please just remember how the Maryland game ended.

Hindsight being 20-20, Iowa was late on pulling the cord on the passing game.

FILM ROOM

McEvoy 45-yard TD run — Between ABC analyst Chris Speilman and sideline/draft guru guy Todd McShay, this play was pretty well broken down on the broadcast.

Wisconsin pulled this from the Maryland playbook. The formation was a pistol with a diamond. QB Tanner McEvoy took the snap about 4 yards deeps with Gordon behind him and a receiver on his right and left. Some defenders did their jobs. I think LB Quinton Alston was in his right spot. CB Desmond King had to honor the fake to #3. There was no backside pursuit.

Defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat was blocked and tried to sell a hold on guard Dallas Lewallen. No flag, but it was rather romantic. Linebacker Josey Jewell (it looked like he might’ve been MLB on this play) was ear-holed by left tackle Tyler Marz and the hole was open for McEvoy, who is the Badgers running QB.

It was beautifully executed on Wisconsin’s part. I think Iowa diagnosed it as well as it could. Blocks were made. Also, safety John Lowdermilk was caught flat footed and didn’t react to the gash that formed in Iowa’s defense. Iowa saw it, but Wisconsin didn’t allow it to stop the play. McEvoy also showed great wheels.

TWO PLAYS

1. Third-and-13 at UW’s 32 with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter — Free safety Jordan Lomax copped to this one after the game and it was obvious what his assignment was. After the Kinnick crowd yelled Wisconsin into a delay of game, the Badgers faced third-and-13. Lomax started running toward the line of scrimmage as the ball was snapped. If Gordon would’ve stayed into block, Lomax would’ve blitzed. Gordon took off and had Lomax trailing within 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Stave put the ball on him for 35 yards and first down at Iowa’s 33. Lomax is in his first year at safety. He erred on the side of aggression. Normally, you can’t fault him for that, but that was Melvin Gordon out there.

This set up ...

2. Gordon 23-yard TD run — It was a perfectly blocked country trey. Iowa was in its base 4-3 and the Badgers called the play into the short side of the field, sending three lead blockers into the hole. The first was fullback Derek Watt, who handled run-force corner Desmond King. Next was guard Kyle Costigan, who never really got too much of a hand on linebacker Josey Jewell but totally impeded his path to the ball. The third was tight end Sam Arneson. He pulled for a wing position on the wide side of the field and got in Gordon’s way. Gordon stopped moving his feet and waited for Arneson and eventually gave him a push. Arneson stumbled after tangling with Costigan and, more accidentally than anything, sealed off pursuit, impeding Lomax and Alston’s path to the ball.

Gordon waited for his third lead blocker, stopped running and then shoved him through the hole. That was some “Matrix” stuff. Quick jump cut to the outside and was never really challenged on the TD that put it out of reach.

Heisman.

UP NEXT — NEBRASKA (8-3, 4-3)

Hot seat for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

Hotter seat for Pelini (same Omaha World Herald).

— Yet another hot seat for Pelini.

— And the aftermath (really, that’s the word, aftermath) of the Huskers’ 28-24 loss to Minnesota.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa — 3 of 4

Wisconsin — 1 of 2

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 4 of 6 (off), 3 of 3 (def); Week 2 vs. BSU — 2 of 6 (off), 1 of 2 (def); Week 3 vs. ISU — 2 of 2 (off), 1 of 2 (def); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 3 of 3 (off), 2 of 4 (def); Week 5 at Purdue — 2 of 5 (off), 0-1 (def); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 3 of 4 (off), 1 of 2 (def); Week 7 at Maryland — 4 of 5 (off), 2 of 3 (def); week 8 vs. Northwestern — 4 of 5 (off), 1 of 2 (def); week 9 at Minnesota — 1 of 1 (off), 6 of 7 (def); week 10 at Illinois — 4 of 6 (off), 0 of 0 (def)

The takeaway: There’s your margin of error. One thing I mentioned in the game story yesterday was the fumble Wisconsin got when SS Michael Caputo popped one out of Mark Weisman. Iowa didn’t get that fumble when Lowdermilk ripped it out of Gordon’s arms. That was the margin of error in this game. Wisconsin got three points out of that. Iowa almost did.

3 and outs (forced by defense)

Iowa — 1

Wisconsin — 2

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 3 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. BSU — 5 (def), 3 (off); Week 3 vs. ISU — 2 (def), 3 (off); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 0 (off) 2 (def); Week 5 at Purdue — 7 (def), 6 (off); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 8 (def), 6 (off); Week 7 at Maryland — 8 (def), 10 (off); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 5 (def), 0 (off); week 9 at Minnesota — 2 (def), 6 (off); week 10 at Illinois — 5 (def), 2 (off)

The takeaway: You guys, we saw a great game last night. Iowa got its three-and-out in the first half. It had three other stops and that clearly wasn’t enough. Iowa was forced to punt in three of its first four drives. Would flipping into high-energy pass have saved the day at that point? Rhetorical. We don’t know. Did Iowa wait too long and let this game dictate what it should do? Clearly yes. Out of the comfort zone, once again for the offense.

Second half adjustments

Iowa — 271 yards, 9.67 yards per play (28 plays)

Wisconsin — 236 yards, 7.86 yards per play (30 plays)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 190 yards, 5.93 yards per play (32 offensive plays), 199 yards, 5.68 yards per play (35 plays on defense); Week 2 vs. BSU — 247 yards, 5.61 yards per play (44 plays on offense), 128 yards, 3.55 yards per play (30 plays on defense); Week 3 vs. ISU — 102 yards, 3.64 yards per play (28 plays on offense), 190 yards, 5.27 yards per play (36 plays on defense); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 183 yards, 5.90 yards per play (31 plays on offense), 173 yards, 5.40 yards per play (32 plays on defense); Week 5 at Purdue — 284 yards, 5.65 yards per play (50 plays on offense), 56 yards, 1.86 yards per play (30 plays on defense); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 126 yards, 3.6 yards per play (35 plays on offense), 185 yards, 5.78 yards per play (32 plays on defense); Week 7 at Maryland — 263 yards, 4.78 yards per play (55 plays on offense), 172 yards, 4.77 yards per play (36 plays on defense); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 185 yards, 5.78 yards per play (32 plays off), 125 yards, 3.47 yards per play (36 plays def); week 10 at Minnesota — 90 yards, 3.75 yards per play (24 plays offense), 176 yards, 4.75 yards per play (37 plays defense); week 10 at Illinois — 293 yards, 7.3 yards per play (40 plays offense); 127 yards, 4.5 yards per play (28 plays defense)

The takeaway: Once again, check the crazy close margin for error here. The Badgers ran two more plays than Iowa in the second half. What would Iowa have done with two more plays? The Wisconsin defense didn’t want to find out. It would’ve been something with Rudock and the plays probably would’ve at least put Iowa into field position.

20-plus plays

Iowa — 9

Wisconsin — 5

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 3 (off), 7 (allowed); Week 2 vs. BSU — 1 (off), 1 (def); Week 3 vs. ISU — 1 (off), 3 (def); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 2 (off), 7 (def); Week 5 at Purdue 4 (off), 1 (def); Week 6 vs Indiana — 4 (off), 5 (def); Week 7 at Maryland — 4 (off), 5 (def); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 7 (off), 1 (def); week 10 at Minnesota — 4 (off), 4 (def); week 11 at Illinois — 9 (off), 2 (def)

The takeaway: Second straight week Iowa has put out nine plays of 20-plus yards. They were clutch, too. On three, Iowa picked up either first downs or TDs. The real curveball for the defense was McEvoy’s 45-yard TD run. Three of the five 20-plus for the Badgers were Gordon, including his career-best 88-yard run.

The Iowa/Greg Davis definition of explosive (it’s 12-plus runs and 16-plus passes): 11 (Indiana 4, Purdue 13, UNI 6, BSU 6, ISU 1, Pitt 4, Maryland 10, Northwestern 13, Minnesota 6, Illinois 16)

Magic points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 0

Wisconsin — 7

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 3 (off), 0 (allowed); Week 2 vs. BSU — 7 (off), 0 (allowed) Week 3 vs. ISU — 0 (off), 3 (allowed); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 0 (off), 3 (def); Week 5 at Purdue — 3 (off), 0 (def); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 7 (off), 0 (def); Week 7 at Maryland — 3 (off), 0 (def); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 7 (off), 0 (def); week 9 at Minnesota — 7 (off), 7 (def); week 10 at Illinois — 0 (off), 0 (def)

The takeaway: Wisconsin took a 16-3 halftime lead when Gordon ran it in from the 6, capping a dominating 12 play, 73-yard, 6:35 drive. Iowa almost rebounded for points, but faced a fourth-and-2 with eight seconds left. Kinnick booed when Iowa allowed maybe about 20 seconds, maybe more, drain off the clock before calling timeout with eight seconds left. Why not go for it? It was fourth-and-2 at Iowa’s 48, that’s why not. Lose the ball there and you give it to an offense with real firepower and a kicker who already had a 50-yarder on the books. If you want to knock this drive, maybe the play on fourth-and-2, a 17-yard completion for a first down at UW’s 35. Maybe do the “Hail Mary” thing there. Instead, Iowa got off a clunky play with 1-second left. The pass went incomplete. I’m not docking grades for this one. It was fourth down.

Short yardage (converted second-5 and third-5)

Iowa — 5 of 7

Illinois — 5 of 10

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 9 of 15 (off), 5 of 10 (def); Week 2 vs. BSU — 9 of 13 (off), 5 of 7 (def); Week 3 vs. ISU: 14 of 19 (off), 10 of 14 (def); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 10 of 17 (off), 8 of 15 (def); Week 5 at Purdue — 8 of 18 (off), 7 of 18 (def); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 3 of 14 (off), 3 of 9 (def); Week 7 at Maryland — 10 of 17 (off), 8 of 10 (def); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 7 of 12 (off), 9 of 11 (def); week 9 at Minnesota — 6 of 11 (off), 13 of 21 (def); week 10 at Illinois — 12 of 22 (off), 6 of 9 (def)

The takeaway: It’s better to have more than less no matter your percentage. That said the passing game at full throttle and successful nullified short yardage, for the most part. Iowa’s defense did come through after Gordon’s 88-yard gain. The tackle by Lowdermilke and Mabin there saved four points. Iowa held the Badgers to a field goal after the 88-yarder moved the ball to Iowa’s 4.

Iowa got two TDs, including one TD pass, out of third-and-short, such a comfortable chunk of the playbook opens up.

Disruption numbers (number of TFLs/sacks, QB hurries, passes defended and turnovers divided by total number of opponent plays)

Iowa — 7.0 TFL/sacks (0 sacks), 0 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 0 FR, = 9 divided into 56 = 16.1 percent

Wisconsin — 6 TFL/sacks (2.0 sacks), 1 FF, 1 FR, 0 QBH, 2 PBU = 8 divided into 79 = 10.1 percent

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. UNI — 14.2 percent (off), 29 percent (def); Week 2 vs. BSU — 18 percent (def), 18 percent (vs. off); Week 3 vs. ISU — 17 percent (def), 22 percent (vs. off); Week 4 vs. Pitt — 16.7 percent (def), 11.3 percent (vs. off); Week 5 at Purdue — 19.1 percent (def), 15.9 percent (off); Week 6 vs. Indiana — 23.3 percent (def), 14.4 percent (off); Week 7 at Maryland — 20.2 percent (def), 28.7 percent (off); Week 8 vs. Northwestern — 31.3 percent (def), 14.0 percent (off); week 9 at Minnesota — 4.1 percent (def), 51.7 percent (off); week 10 at Illinois — 19.6 percent (def), 10.1 percent (off)

The takeaway: Iowa’s turnover margin has tanked the last four games. Iowa’s last takeaway was a fumble against Northwestern on Nov. 1. It’s last interception was two Oct. 18 at Maryland. That’s run Iowa’s turnover margin to minus-3, which ranks tied for ninth in the Big Ten. Iowa was in the positive numbers just a few weeks ago. Iowa is taking care of the ball with just 16 giveaways (tied for second in the Big Ten). For a point of reference, Minnesota is second in the league in takeaways at 27. Iowa has 13 and is sitting at a table with Indiana, Illinois and Michigan in this number.

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

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