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THE DAY AFTER: Wisconsin

What went right and what went wrong against the Badgers?

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Ya know, it’s not so much that Iowa lost to Wisconsin, yesterday. I think that was relatively expected. But as an entertainment product, Iowa is approaching “Battlefield Earth” status. Iowa’s plot doesn’t make sense, unless it’s executed to absolute perfection and you have the right characters in the right places. I think many Hawkeyes fans could have lived with the result yesterday if things weren’t so damn predictable. Punting on 4th and 1 from inside Wisconsin’s 45, going for the field goal with under 6 minutes left, abandoning the only offensive attack that was working (hurry-up). None of those things surprised us at all and that’s what makes yesterday’s loss so maddening.

On the other side, you have a team that for the better part of a decade represents what Iowa football should be: an elite defense with just enough offensive weapons to make a power running game work effectively. But hell, even Wisconsin ran a play or two out of the wildcat formation and a large chunk of plays were set up off of jet sweep motion. Little things sure, but at the end of the day, those things are adjustments that give the rest of their offense room to work.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

And the equally sucky thing about 11 am starts is that we college football fans get the pleasure of spending the rest of the day watching other teams that: 1) throw occasional wrinkles into the offense, 2) always have touchdown on their mind, and 3) have speed at the skill positions. I could go on and on. For now, let’s just get to it.

What went right?

Bend, don’t break defense: No way anyone can pin the loss yesterday on the defense. Yes, the Badgers had 423 yards of offense, but also had the ball for over 37 minutes, which means the offense wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain. The defense did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. Corey Clement had 134 yards rushing, but it took him 35 carries to get there. Tackling is still a problem and I would have liked to see more pressure on a redshirt freshman QB. Regardless, if your defense holds the #10 team to 17 points, the offense has to do its part.

Special Teams: The Hawkeye kickers were a combined 34 on field goals, Ron Coluzzi had a punt downed at the 1 in the first half, and of course, Desmond King was Desmond King and put the Hawkeyes in position to get points very late in the game when the offense desperately needed the help. Maybe the Hawkeyes need to get the ball in his hands more often. Maybe, just maybe.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Urgency before half: This one probably should come with an asterisk because if Akrum Wadley had not gotten a first down on the first play following Wisconsin’s fumble into the endzone, I firmly believe Kirk would have run out the clock instead of going for points. But the point here is that when the Hawkeye offense knew it needed to go and go quickly, there was a clear change in their rhythm, much in the same manner it has when the team goes no-huddle. I’m not saying Iowa needs to be Oregon, but the sense of urgency is probably the biggest difference between last year’s offense and this year’s. Beathard operates best when he is given more free reign over decision-making. His God-given abilities shine when he relies on instinct instead of pure mechanics.

What went wrong?

3rd down: Feels like I’ve been beating a dead horse all season. The Hawkeyes blow on 3rd down. Yesterday, they were a masterful 2 of 13, including throwing a screen on 3rd and 14 in which Wisconsin dropped 8 into coverage. Wow, give your guys a damn chance. No further analysis is needed here.

Passing Game/Playcalling: CJ went 17-33 with only 153 yards passing. That’s only 9 yards/completion. In other words, Iowa was not gobbling up chunks of yards (this stat accompanied only 3.1 yards/rushing attempt). Wisconsin, on the other hand, averaged 17 yards/completion. Noah Fant looks like he will be an excellent TE in the future, but the WR’s around him need to improve fast. Granted, CJ hasn’t looked great either, but there is simply no one open.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of CJ, get him moving for God’s sake. Yesterday, I counted one deep pass, a handful of play-action passes, and no rollouts. Give your senior all-B1G QB some room to operate. I know everyone was tired of the Ken O’Keefe offense when he left, but at least we ran a damn bootleg once in a while. Once again, give your guys a frickin’ chance. This is also probably a good time to mention how comforting it was to hear Iowa’s offensive coordinator get called out by the ESPN announcers for not coming up with something creative to get things going. Not something you generally want to hear...

Field Goal attempt with 5:25 left: Ok I know this one is subject to some interpretation and hindsight is always 20/20, but I cannot figure out why it was better to go for the FG instead of trying to get the 1st down on 4th and 5 from the 20. The offense was actually looking somewhat competent and Wisconsin would need about two first downs on the ensuing drive against a defense that was completely gassed (remember: 37 minutes time of possession) to win. I feel like that was clearly four-down territory. The Hawkeyes would have needed a stop and a TD regardless of the outcome of the FG, which is why I think it was so baffling. Kirk’s response in the post-game didn’t help.

At first, I thought he was confused by the question, but his second response made me think he wasn’t. Not a good look.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The bye week is much needed for the players, but their final four games are not looking like much fun at this point. It makes me pretty happy that I didn’t bite at the opportunity to purchase Michigan tickets before the season. Not just because Iowa likely won’t win, but because I already know the outcome of the movie. I’ve seen it before. It’s pretty boring.