A lot of good that extra week did.
Coming off the #9 Iowa Hawkeyes’ (6-2, 3-2) bye, they looked even more lackluster in a 27-7 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers (5-3, 3-2).
To be fair, the first 8 seconds could have not gone much better, with Charlie Jones returning the opening kickoff 44 yards to give the Hawks their best field position of the half. Instead of capitalizing on it with playcalling which went against last week’s 17 shotgun passes in 19 playcalls, Iowa opened with a 5-wide pass which resulted in the first of many Badger sacks. It led the the first of six three-and-outs in the opening half.
Terry Roberts’ absence was immediately felt on a Tory Taylor punt which bounced a couple times inside the 5 before trickling into the end zone. Wisconsin was able to get their run game going early, and capitalized on Graham Mertz’s best stretch since the first game of 2020 (he opened the game 9/10 for 83 yards & a TD) to open a 10-0 lead.
The mistakes started to hit Iowa during a truly wretched stretch of a Spencer Petras’ sack/fumble at their 8 (Iowa’s defense held Wisconsin on downs) followed by an Ivory Kelly-Martin fumble on a hand-off inside Iowa’s 2. Not trifling around, the Badgers’ snuck it in with Mertz from the 1 on their drive for a 17-point lead.
After Iowa’s last three-and-out of the half, Max Cooper was sent back to retrieve a punt as Jones was nursing an injury. The ball went right off him and was recovered by Wisconsin at Iowa’s 14.
The defense forced a FG, and Iowa went into halftime down 20-0.
It was Iowa’s first first half in yardage (17 yards) since 2005.
Finally sensing some desperation, Iowa got a little more creative offensively. With four jet sweep actions across Iowa’s first 10 plays of the second half (including a something-out-of-nothing reverse from Keagan Johnson), the Hawkeyes punched it in to close the gap at 20-7.
The next drive stalled after two fullback dives on 3rd and 4th down at Wisconsin’s 40. The Badgers moved the ball down the field and, aided by a 3rd down PI call on Matt Hankins, were able to stretch the lead back to 20, at 27-7.
The teams traded possessions, and that ended up the final score. Under bettors rejoiced.
It was a truly dreaded offensive output and Wisconsin’s score, which broke the 25-and-under streak for Iowa’s defense, belies the yardage they gained (273 - at the time of this writing - is a winning number). Mertz returned to being the Mertz we know, but the damage was done. Iowa struggled to make any dent in the Badgers D while the game was relevant.
Spencer Petras went 9/19 for 93 yards. He was constantly pressured & Iowa’s telegraphed playcalling (18 passes on 19 shotgun snaps before garbage time set in!) doesn’t make anybody’s job easier. Iowa averaged 2.4 yards/carry when getting rid of sack yardage. This was a tired gameplan trotted out after an extra week of preparation. Seriously, what the heck was Iowa doing in the week off?
On a staff with 3 offensive line coaches, Iowa cannot figure out any sort of balanced playcalling to ease the burden of the offensive linemen. No jet sweep action was used until down 20. There was no running out of shotgun.
There was obviously some semblance of “what can go wrong, did go wrong” but the staff rolled out a genuinely disappointing gameplan with an extra week’s time. After 6 weeks of “this is just how complementary football works!” it’s clear that you need to be perfect in every other area Iowa to win in spite of the dreaded “complementary football.”
With four games and a month left to play, Iowa returns to irrelevance by way of not controlling their own destiny in the Big Ten West race. Maybe a couple more rivalry trophies will ease the frustration but Iowa’s Icarusian offense has resulted in a mess of wax around them and no real hope in sight.