This was the chance.
This was the opportunity.
This was the moment.
And Iowa didn’t seize it. The players didn’t take it. The coaches didn’t take it. Wisconsin, however, did. They walked into Kinnick Stadium for a night game and walked out 28-17 victors. They did not dominate Iowa. They did not need to.
Iowa dominated Iowa. Mistakes, miscues, bad play calls, bad passes, bad field position, missed tackles, blown assignments, turnovers... those dominated the Hawkeyes.
And it sucks. This was the opportunity to take what will likely equate to a two-game lead in the Big Ten West. Everything in the world was behind Iowa to have another truly, incomprehensible, wonderfully special season and they blew it.
They all, as a team, blew it. This wasn’t a game the Wisconsin Badgers won, this was a game the Iowa Hawkeyes lost.
For most of Saturday evening, Iowa looked like the better team. Nate Stanley quarterbacked an 8-play, 75-yard drive late in the third quarter that was easily the best the Hawkeyes have looked on offense all season.
It came after one of Iowa’s worst miscues of the game: fourth-string tight end Shaun Beyer touching a punt no one beside Wisconsin on God’s green earth had any business being near. The Badgers scored a touchdown three plays later and took a 14-10 lead.
Then Nate Stanley, Toren Young and the rest of the Hawkeyes did their thing and it seemed as if Iowa could get the ball back one or two more times, maybe kick a field goal or burn some clock, they could win against Wisconsin.
They got the ball back four times after that, did nothing with it and allowed the Badgers to score two more touchdowns and win the game. They couldn’t string together anything and the desperation drive with under one minute left ended in an interception.
But then again, this is par for the course.
Iowa has won just three games against Wisconsin since 2006 and have been victorious exactly once the last seven times its played against the Badgers. In the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa has averaged just 18.8 points per game against Wisconsin. That’s not great and, hell, the Hawkeyes didn’t even eclipse that everage on Saturday night.
And it cost them, more than perhaps they know.
Barring something strange, Wisconsin is going to win the division and (probably) play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Iowa, meanwhile, is going to likely struggle the rest of this season.
Kirk Ferentz is 2-8 in his career at Iowa in games played on the road after a bye week. The Hawkeyes head to Minnesota in two weeks (as they have a bye next weekend) and if history means anything, very well could lose. The Gophers aren’t particularly good, but they’ll be at home and PJ Fleck really needs a signature win. There’s a decent chance they get it.
That’s just the start of a stretch where Iowa plays four-of-five games on the road. Among them are contests at Indiana, at Purdue and at Penn State. They will all be difficult and between those and Minnesota, there are could be multiple losses in that stretch if things don’t improve, particularly on the offensive consistency front.
Is that a little bleak? Maybe. Will Iowa dig deep, respond, and save this season? Maybe. But they likely aren’t playing for a conference championship berth anymore and that changes things.
Now Iowa’s playing for a spot in a decent bowl, hopefully somewhere that it’s warm. All the great things, all those paths that led to everlasting glory — those are seemingly gone now. This won’t be a legendary team simply because they just aren’t set up to be anymore.
Maybe things turn around. Maybe Iowa still wins nine or ten games this year. But I’m not sure anymore. Boiling it down, the drive that ended in Wisconsin’s first touchdown of the fourth quarter didn’t just end the game.
It probably ended what this season could have been.