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The Morning After: Driver’s Seat

Iowa now controls the Big Ten West race

Iowa v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For once, Iowa might have delivered a knockout blow in the race to win the Big Ten West. And they did it in mid-October.

Admittedly it’s a weird feeling, writing about a possible knockout blow delivered by Iowa on Wisconsin. This has usually worked in reverse. The team putting the final nail in Iowa’s West coffin has usually been Wisconsin. Iowa had decent control of this series with the Badgers dating back to the early Ferentz years, but they’ve lost that ground to Bucky since 2010. This game has become a slugfest that tilts a league title or title game appearance to the Badgers. It’s been close, but usually Iowa has been a speed bump on the way to a Wisconsin coronation.

So couple the recent tilt in this series toward Madison with Iowa’s terrible offense, and I thought it would be Iowa knocked out of Big Ten West contention again. The time of death would be October 14, an unusually early day to be out of the race. Iowa dropping to 2-2 in league play while Wisconsin vaults to 3-0 plus having a game in hand on the Hawks...that’s a scenario that Iowa couldn’t have overcome.

Instead it’s Iowa with the game in hand and another trophy back in Iowa City, and oh how satisfying it is. I know I’m not the only person chowing down on crow today. Wisconsin lost this game, lost valuable pieces to injury, and still has Ohio State on deck. Advantage Iowa.

Crucially, Iowa managed to outmuscle someone in a big spot, playing exactly how Kirk wants to play, and against a team that is almost always the brawn of the league. That is a thump your chest, head butt a car window while roided out kind of win for Iowa. This can’t be over-stated - Iowa out-Wisconsin’d Wisconsin. LFG.

There are some game balls to give out on this joyous Saturday evening while I belly flop into my beer fridge (Weldwerks-Casey Brewing and Blending collaboration, a lovely Oktoberfest from a local Denver brewery called Station 26, and a couple of the Fremont fresh hop varietals, for those scoring at home).

  • Leshon Williams. What a damn game from him. 25 carries, 174 yards, and an 82-yard touchdown run that put Iowa ahead with a lead they never relinquished. And what a run it was. That hesitation in the back field. The stiff arm.../chef’s kiss.
  • Happy birthday to Sebastian Castro. A human missile out there, the kind of seek and destroy defensive performance that would make Bob Sanders proud. 7 tackles, all solo, two for loss, a pick at the end, and he was crucial in forcing the strip sack on Iowa’s safety that he somehow didn’t even get a half-sack for. A do-everything performance. Also he flat out destroyed Braelon Allen on the decisive Wisconsin drive, the fourth down that Allen fumbled. That was a massive hit. By the way - David Boston called and he said Braelon Allen looks pretty big. Geez. Maybe it’s the pads but wow, that guy looked enormous. Has it compromised his explosiveness a little? He doesn’t look as dangerous as he did in the past.

Some Castro highlights:

  • Yahya Black. A truly disruptive force up front that Wisconsin could not block. He was held over and over on his way to 4 tackles and a sack (seriously, what is holding anymore? We’re calling a roughing the passer on Ethan Hurkett for shoving a quarterback, a truly soft call, but Black is getting held repeatedly and it only draws flags in the dying embers of the game? What are we doing here?) He was held on the Wisconsin drive that ended in Aaron Graves demolishing Wisconsin’s Braedyn Locke - more on that in a second - on the play after Castro smashed Allen, but was injured. Possibly ominous and another guy to add to Iowa’s now-lengthy injury list, though if Noah Shannon is allowed to return full-time, they can recover from a possible injury to Black. Still - it would suck to lose him, if that was serious. He’s had a strong year at defensive tackle.
  • Leshon Williams again. Always falling forward, but also enough juice to score an 82-yarder. That was the most yardage on the ground for an Iowa back in Camp Randall since Sedrick Shaw in 1995. Not sure Shaw has been mentioned much on this site. Shaw was a total dog. What the hell - one more time on that 82-yard run.
  • Tory Taylor. PUNTING GOD. 10 punts for 506 yards. Long of 62. Flipped the field all day. Iowa does not win this without his brilliance.
  • Offensive line. The run game is alive and well. Since the Penn State debacle, they’ve shown some juice. It’s a way forward, even with a lack of passing game.
  • Mason Richman. Burying the most important play of the game by Iowa’s left tackle. Without him turning what looked like a Wisconsin interception deep in Iowa territory into an incompletion by fighting for the ball, I’m writing about Iowa’s elimination in the Big Ten West. Play of the game, and possibly the season, for Iowa.

And now the bummers:

  • The injury situation is a mess. Black might be on the list. If he’s not, Erick All certainly is. This is borderline ridiculous. And the hit that knocks him out? He’s been mentioned on this site recently by yours truly, but it’s in the Rob Gronkowski mold of hits. Low, at the knees. Gronk got hurt on that a lot in his career, the shoulder into the knee right as he’s planting. Plan on him being out for the year.
  • Wisconsin had their share of injuries too. Tanner Mordecai left right before halftime with a hand injury. That’s shades of 1997 Matt Sherman, his hand hitting a helmet on a throw and costing him the rest of the season (Iowa injury conspiracy theories!) Allen also missed a portion of this game. If Mordecai is out and Allen is dinged up, Wisconsin might have more losses in them beyond Iowa and Ohio State. It’s not a vintage Wisconsin team, and watching their offense, the comments from spring practice and how much they struggled offensively came to mind. It’s a full change in DNA for them so that’s going to take time to install.
  • Some weird stuff again from the offense, but that’s just par for the course with this Frankenstein’s Monster of an offense. 6 drives totaling 3 yards? 37 yards passing? Literally NO passing game to speak of after All left the game? LOL. Seriously, 37 passing yards, and Iowa won.

Iowa is the favorite to get to Indianapolis, and that’s great, but that might get ugly unless the passing game somehow finds traction despite being down so many tight ends. Run game is better - 200 yards rushing in Madison is a fantastic number - defense looks much improved, special teams is back on track after some wobbles with Purdue, but the pass offense remains a disaster. A better game overall from Brian Ferentz, but the passing game is beyond repair. We’ll have more slam ball in our future. If Iowa’s run game is truly sorted, that might be the best (only) path forward - play like Wisconsin did for much of the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. 50+ rush attempts a game, 10-15 pass attempts, break the opponent, break off long runs over and over, good defense, good special teams. It’s possible, right?

Ultimately, Iowa won in Madison, and I will celebrate. I will worry about route trees and quarterback and wide receiver targets another day. You should too! That was a “win at all costs” scenario and Iowa got it done, and they almost never do that.

Oh - Nick Jackson gets a game ball for the tongue out.