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The Takeaway: Wisconsin

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Sure, Iowa just lost to Wisconsin, 31-30. But how much do we really know? What was so important about losing to Wisconsin? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

The season's not over. It's not easy to say or believe after watching Iowa drop a game at home, but as one FanPost reminds us, Iowa's path to the Rose Bowl is still relatively simple--if not necessarily likely. If Iowa wins out and Wisconsin drops one more game (probably either @Michigan or their home finale against jNWU, who is absolutely earning the j these days), Iowa still goes to Pasadena.

Of course, that's dependent on Iowa beating Michigan State, Northwestern, and Ohio State (if Iowa can't beat Indiana or Minnesota, after all, this discussion is pretty far detached from reality at the very outset), but hey, that's great. If Iowa wins out--and that's hardly a stretch--they'll certainly have earned their way to a Top 10 ranking and a major bowl game. At worst, 10-2 from here puts Iowa in the Capital One. So yes, there's a lot to play for, and a lot of merit in still watching this team perform.

Iowa's depth at linebacker isn't at a high level yet. Of the key plays of the Iowa-Wisconsin game (one that had no shortage of them), one of the more unsung but important moments was when Jeremiha Hunter injured his knee on the sidelines early in the second half. Hunter was in and out after that, but clearly ineffective, and neither Shane DiBona nor Lance Tillison were nearly as good in relief.

Further, at middle linebacker, Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson were both limited again this week, which meant that in the fourth quarter, Iowa had to call on James Morris once again. Morris was fine, mind you; he didn't blow anything as near as we could tell, and he's probably penciled into the starting MLB spot for the next three seasons. But think about it: at crunch time, Iowa was trotting out DiBona (redshirt freshman), Morris (true freshman), and Tyler Nielsen (first-year starter) against arguably the best offense in the Big Ten. That's not meant to be an excuse, but just the reality of the situation: Iowa was bringing first-year-on-the-field guys against Wisconsin's offense during the fourth quarter. We shouldn't be that surprised that WIsconsin scored 31 points. 

This is not to make excuses or to delegitimize the Badgers' win, of course; Wisconsin was every bit as wracked by injury as was Iowa, and their list of casualties read as a who's who of the Badger offense; at tailback, James White left early after a leg injury, and John Clay was limited with wrist problems during the third quarter. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin's vaunted tight end, hurt himself early in the game and played sparingly. Top wideout Nick Toon was non-existent for the Badgers. And all that's just the skill positions on offense. All of which is to say, Iowa's two-deep on defense is still awfully top-heavy, to the severe detriment of the team.

Adam Robinson continues his quiet awesomeness. When it comes to picking an offensive MVP, the honor for Iowa still probably goes to Ricky Stanzi; the President is now up to second in the nation in passing efficiency after a 25-37, 257, 3-0 performance against Wisconsin. More than that, though, he's clearly the vocal and emotional leader of the Iowa offense, and that's been evident ever since last season.

And yet, just like last week, it would be borderline criminal not to acknowledge the production of Adam Robinson, who continues to soar past expectations (including ours) and prove himself as a legitimate Big Ten running back. A-Rob's backups are two true freshmen--both of whom are coming off injury--and yet in the four games after Jewel Hampton's knee betrayed him, Robinson has averaged 26 carries per game at more than five yards a pop; all in all, A-Rob is fourth in the Big ten in rushing, and 18th nationwide. Again, with no more real help for the rest of the season.

But for all the improbabilities of Robinson's run at tailback, there's nothing that can explain it quite like just watching him play; Robinson's unorthodox stride is reminiscent of Brian Calhoun or even Tavian Banks, while his ability to avoid the brunt of big hits is more like late-career Jerome Bettis. As a formula, it shouldn't work. But it does, and wonderfully so, and it sure would be nice to see Robinson feted by the usual media services at the end of the season. 

But yes, the special teams are a problem. When it comes to missed field goals, returns, and all other aspects of special teams that directly affect the final score, Iowa has played in two games this season wherein one team gave away more points than were necessary to turn the game. Iowa lost both. Aganst Arizona, Iowa gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and allowed a blocked punt inside the 10. Against Wisconsin, the Badgers blocked an extra point and watched a field goal get aborted by a bad snap.

So now where does Iowa go? I don't know. I really don't know. It'd sure be nice if their retaliatory statement was to send off the rest of the conference with losses, though.