Iowa’s struggles continued in Camp Randall Saturday with one of their worst performances in recent memory. The Hawkeyes recorded just one first down in the first half and failed to establish any sort of offense in a 27-7 loss at Wisconsin. Three fumbles and 17 total yards in the first half were detrimental to Iowa’s second-half chances. Despite a third quarter touchdown drive, Iowa can’t muster up anything positive on offense, and the Badgers run away with the bull, reclaiming the Heartland Trophy.
Jack Campbell’s Defensive Stand
Down 10-0, Spencer Petras was stripped inside the Iowa red zone and Wisconsin took over at the eight yard line. Things began to look like they were falling apart completely, but the Hawkeye defense came up with a huge defensive stand. Linebacker Jack Campbell recorded three tackles inside the Iowa five yard line to force a turnover on downs in a crucial situation. The Hawkeyes took over on their own one yard line, preventing a score that would have made it a three-possession game. Unfortunately, it was for nothing, as Iowa fumbled it right back to the Badgers on the ensuing possession. Despite the quick give-away, Campbell and the Hawkeye defense showed no quit and gave their team all the chances they could. Campbell finished with nine total tackles on the day.
Sliver Of Momentum
Charlie Jones returned an early third quarter punt 17 yards, setting up Iowa with their first play in Wisconsin territory of the game. The field position began to give Iowa a sliver of momentum trailing by 20 points. The Hawkeyes strung together a couple of 12-yard rushes including an end around by Keagan Johnson. He took the ball in the backfield and broke multiple tackles on his way to the two yard line. Johnson averages over 14 yards after contact per reception, and he gained about 10 yards after contact on this run. His balance and ability to make defenders miss is incredible for a freshman. Following the run, Iowa capitalized on a quarterback sneak touchdown, cutting the Badger lead to 13 points.
After the score, Iowa forced a three and out and took over with good field position. The Hawkeyes began to feel confidence in the offense and were on the verge of a momentum shift. The two defining plays of the game occurred on this drive near mid-field where the Hawkeyes faced a critical third and two. Iowa gave the ball to fullback Monte Pottebaum on back-to-back snaps, and they failed to convert. Even following a timeout before the fourth down play, all that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz could put together was another fullback dive. The play calling in this situation against the nation’s second-ranked run defense was less than ideal. Pottebaum has been a force with the ball in his hands in short yardage situations. He is averaging over four yards per run this season. The Badgers knew this and stacked the box both times, turning Iowa over on downs in a big situation. Wisconsin took over at its own 40 yard line and drove the field for a touchdown. That put the game out of reach for the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin Offense Shows Up
The Badger passing offense entered Saturday ranked outside the top 120 in the FBS. Despite throwing just 42 passes in the last three games, Graham Mertz led a balanced Badger offense to a 20-point first-half lead against the Hawkeyes, and they never looked back. Mertz entered today’s game with the worst overall passing efficiency in the Big Ten. In just the first half against Iowa’s second-rated coverage defense, he was 10 of 16 with 90 yards and a touchdown. Wisconsin ran 40 first half plays, and threw the ball on nearly half of them.
On the ground, Wisconsin rushed for 166 total yards headed by running back Braelon Allen. He gathered 105 yards on 20 attempts, averaging over five yards per carry. The Hawkeye run defense was 11th in the nation entering today’s game, but they had no answers for Allen. A lot of their success was due to their time of possession. Wisconsin had the Iowa defense on its heels from the start Their 19 minutes with the ball in the first half were game changing. While their pass game played well, the Badgers were able to run away with the bull.
Iowa Offense Does Not
Scoring 14 total points in two games is the worst back-to-back performance for the Hawkeyes since the 2000 season. Then, Iowa lost to Illinois and Ohio State two weeks in a row scoring a total of just 10 points. The bye week did not result in any improvements offensively, and it showed in Madison. This two-game stretch has exposed Iowa’s offense in multiple different ways.
The Hawkeye offensive line continues to under-perform. Despite the potential All-American at center in Tyler Linderbaum, Wisconsin recorded six total sacks on the day. Nick Herbig recorded two-and-a-half, and Petras consistently had no time in the pocket. He only got 19 passes off on the day and completed just nine. Backup Alex Padilla entered the game mid-way through the fourth quarter, and the results stayed the same. Kirk Ferentz said he has seen improvement in the offensive line as the season has progressed, but the inconsistencies are persistent.
As a team, Iowa produced just 156 total yards Saturday, averaging less than three yards per play. The special teams have given the Hawkeyes solid field position all season. But the offense has failed to capitalize on their success in the last two games. Jones averaged 30 yards per kick return, and 10 yards per punt return against Wisconsin. His elusiveness is impressive, but for two games in a row, Iowa cannot take advantage of his success.
Badgers Run Away With The Bull
Iowa comes off of the bye week and underperforms for the second week in a row. This time, they drop the Heartland Trophy game to the Badgers and give up their control of the Big Ten West. There are several problems with the Hawkeye offense. The offensive line is allowing far too much pressure and the play calling continues to be questionable. Spencer Petras can only do so much with so little time in the pocket. The Hawkeye defense played well Saturday, but the results show that Iowa cannot rely on the defense to win a game. Iowa falls to 6-10 overall in the battle for the Heartland Trophy, and they leave Madison empty-handed with several offensive question marks.