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WISCONSIN 26 - IOWA 24: THE DREAM IS DEAD

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There is no God. There is only Gordon.

Matthew Holst/Getty Images

On August 31, twelve Saturdays ago, Northern Iowa running back David Johnson did something that nobody expected: He caught five passes for 203 yards and a score against Iowa, exposing Iowa's linebackers by running seam routes right at them.  Iowa promised to fix it.

Eighty-four days later, Wisconsin halfback Melvin Gordon -- a player who returned to school in no small part to show NFL scouts that he could catch the ball -- ran a seam route right at Iowa's interior linebackers, hauling in a floater thrown by Joel Stave and running for 35 yards, converting a crucial 3rd & 13 and setting up a 23-yard touchdown run two plays later.  Iowa fell behind by nine points and did not have enough time to recover.  Gordon's catch was the most critical play in a 26-24 loss by the Hawkeyes that finally drops them out of the Big Ten title race and puts them perilously close to a four-loss conference finish in the weakest Big Ten in a generation.

The performance was not uniformly, or even mostly, negative.  Quarterback Jake Rudock completed 20/30 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns, embracing Iowa's downfield passing game in the second half and engineering a near-comeback from a 13-point halftime deficit. Rudock is tied with Ohio State's J.T. Barrett for the conference's highest completion percentage, and has managed to throw 12 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions this season.  Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri found running difficult Saturday -- Iowa's halfbacks totaled just 76 yards on the ground against the top-ranked Wisconsin defense -- but showed flashes of something resembling a running game.  Tevaun Smith and Jake Duzey give Iowa options in the passing game for next week and the foreseeable future.  It was, in all, a second consecutive coherent offensive performance, in which Iowa effectively set up second-half opportunities and adjusted well to what the defense threw at them.

Unfortunately, it was not enough to make up for a run defense that wore down over the course of the game and continued to suffer from the poor play of its linebackers.  Iowa stifled Melvin Gordon early Saturday, selling out to stop him from breaking free, and yet Gordon managed 200 yards on 31 carries.  Gordon's performance was highlighted by an 88-yard run through a massive hole off the left side of his offensive line.  And the pass play.  That pass play that never got fixed.

The loss, Iowa's fourth of the season and third in the Big Ten, eliminates the Hawkeyes from the conference championship picture.  Iowa faces Nebraska -- itself eliminated Saturday -- next Friday in the regular season finale, then faces a bowl trip somewhere.  This loss was the final nail in the coffin of the hopes that this season would give us much more.

With all the ink spilled over Greg Davis and Phil Parker this year, the sad fact is that Iowa -- a program that produced two NFL starting linebackers last year and countless others over Ferentz's tenure -- has been undone by linebacker play this year.  Iowa's inability to stop the perimeter run has been crucial to each of its four defeats, and its ineptitude against running backs and tight ends in the passing game has been easy to diagnose and apparently impossible to fix.  Iowa is inexperienced at linebacker, the natural byproduct of three-year starters at all three positions in 2013.  But Iowa is also slow and unathletic at linebacker, a natural byproduct of stagnant recruiting.  Iowa has two walk-ons and another late-offer local recruit playing prominently in those positions.  It can't win a Big Ten title -- even in this Big Ten -- with that talent gap.  And until that talent gap is remedied, Iowa is destined for this every year.