Well apparently Kirk Ferentz doesn’t heed our advice when it comes to football things. I can’t say I blame him, but any scrub could’ve predicted what this year’s (and pretty much any) installment of the battle for the Heartland Trophy would hinge upon: it came down to one team beating the other at its own game and this year the Hawkeyes’ ended up on the wrong end.
Run the ball effectively
Yeah…this didn’t happen. To be fair, the Badgers boast some of the best linebackers Iowa will see this year, but 3.1 yards per carry for 83 yards was never going to get it done for the Hawks in this game. Iowa failed to capitalize on a true freshman starting at nose guard due to injury and never had consistent success on the ground, which was disappointing.
Iowa’s ability to run the ball continues to be a verifiable bellwether for the outcome of the game: this year in all five wins, the Hawkeyes have run for 175 yards or more. Of Iowa’s three losses, the 83 yards on the ground against Wisconsin is the high mark. This is a trend that shouldn’t be surprising for Hawkeye fans—Iowa’s success in the trenches has long dictated its success on the scoreboard. Injuries, lack of depth, and a simple deficit of talent on the offensive line have held back one of the best groups of (healthy) running backs I’ve seen on an Iowa roster under Kirk Ferentz.
Desmond King had a big return late in the 4th quarter (which not-so-coincidentally led to points) and Ron Coluzzi was solid in the punt and kickoff game, sure, but this phase benefitted more from mistakes on Wisconsin’s end than any noticeable advantage for the Hawkeyes. Keith Duncan’s missed 38-yard field goal in the 4th quarter loomed large down the stretch of the game and ultimately, Iowa didn’t gain any sort of advantage via special teams, which never bodes well for an upset.
The one instance of Iowa being opportunistic (Clement’s fumble at the goal line) was a huge part of the Hawkeyes hanging around in the battle for the Heartland Trophy. Unfortunately for Iowa, defense failed to force Wisconsin into any more mistakes and the offense experienced a dearth of explosive plays. The Hawkeyes needed far more momentum-turning plays than they were able to muster in order to beat the Badgers.
Make Hornibrook beat you
Iowa actually executed fairly well defensively in terms of stopping the run. Corey Clement did run for 134 yards on the day, but it took him 35 carries to attain it; 3.8 yards per carry for the Badgers’ top runner is never a number to be ashamed of. The bad news for the Hawkeyes came in the form of the (strange) quarterback combo of Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. Both Wisconsin quarterbacks were able to protect the ball and make enough explosive plays to win the game, which proved to be the death knell for Iowa’s defense down the stretch.
Ultimately, I see the Hawkeyes rallying behind a rejuvenated Kinnick Stadium crowd that’s thankful to watch an impactful game again and grinding out a win.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Wisconsin 13.
16-13, 17-9, what’s the difference? The Iowa defense deserves some credit for keeping the Hawkeyes in the game. Sadly, it was probably too much to expect Iowa to be too prolific offensively against a defense of this caliber (draw your own conclusions there…), but the schedule doesn’t get much easier from here. If the Hawks are to achieve something better than 7-5 or 6-6 and a lower-tier bowl, they’re going to need to find something more offensively. We can only hope the bye week provides some answers—until we saw Iowa accomplish something in Happy Valley in two weeks, though, I will remain skeptical.