This was such a "what if" game. There were so many single plays to point to in this game that if they had gone just slightly differently, Iowa would be playing for the West title this Friday. What if you switch the Mark Weisman and Melvin Gordon fumbles? Weisman’s gifted the Badgers 3 points even after a good stand by the defense. Gordon’s popped up and it looked like multiple Hawkeyes would have a shot to recover it, only to fall right back in Wisconsin’s hands…and they would score a TD just a few plays later.
What if Wisconsin’s kicker missed his 51-yard field goal instead of an extra point? What if Stave would have thrown just one more incomplete pass on a third down instead of having by far his best game of the year (11/14, when he was completing just 55% of his passes coming in)? What if Iowa had taken shots down field in the first half instead of waiting until the end of the third quarter? What if…
Greg Don’t Panic
I actually think the overall game plan for this game was good. Iowa really slowed down the game and limited the number of possessions in the first half. They were able to keep the score low and stay within striking distance. They had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, and really a good chance, but just couldn’t get a stop on defense when they needed one.
But I actually got this one backwards. Greg should have panicked earlier and brought out the Jake Rudock down-field attack much sooner. The offensive game plan in the first half was too predictable and just ineffective. I kind of get throwing out Ike Boettger as a TE in a jumbo set…you get a third offensive tackle out there on one of the linebackers and that seems like a good match up. But other than the very first drive before the fumble, the running game never got going, even in that set. (I was really hoping for Ike and Brandon Scherff to switch positions and have a tackle-eligible Scherff go out for a pass…)
Then Greg Davis sprinkled in a variety of non-base plays that were ultra-telegraphed. Oh look, we have Jonathan Parker split out one way, and Akrum Wadley on the other side…could this be a reverse? Yep. Now we have a blocking TE out wide motioning in…where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, that's the formation Iowa uses to run an outside pitch. Look, Damond Powell got subbed on at the last second, I wonder if they are going to throw him a screen? Of course they are. And on and on. My brother is probably tired of going to game with me, because I call play after play before the snap. I’m sure most of you can do it too. And if we can, so can opposing defenses.
I will say, I LOVED the fake sweep to Parker, then the throw back screen to Jordan Canzeri. That was a very well set up play. As was the play-action off the sweep, then hit Jake Duzey deep on what I think was a wheel route. If Davis sticks around another year, then I hope he finds a way to use the sweep action even more. I’d like to see it used 10-15 plays per game, instead of 3-4. It has been effective as the sweep itself, faking it and handing it off on an inside zone, and now with play-action and that screen. That's good stuff.
Limit the Rest of the Badgers
Joel Stave – player of the game. He had by far his best game of the year. He has been just a terrible QB up until this point. He hasn’t been very accurate or a good runner. So of course he completes 78% of his passes and had a game-clinching 12 yard run on 3rd-and-8. But, again, I think Iowa’s game plan was pretty good here. The plan was, make Stave beat you. And unfortunately he did.
Tanner McEvoy also made a big contribution with 62 yards and a TD on the ground. Wisconsin busted out a diamond formation that Iowa didn’t look ready for and totally misread the play and forgot that McEvoy is a runner. If only they had handed it off to Gordon on that play…
But yeah…Melvin Gordon got his 200 yards and had a nice game. But I think the Iowa defense really did their job against him. He had his one TD where it looked like he had no room and then all of a sudden was running down the sideline. And he had the 89-yard run, which I thought was actually one of Iowa’s best plays of the game. Yes, they got beat for 89-yards, but the defenders didn’t give up on the play and four guys were able to run Gordon down from behind. So what now Mr. Heisman contender…not so fast, are we? Anyway, tracking him down from behind gave Iowa a chance. Instead of going down 23-3, it was 19-3 and Iowa was still potentially just 2 scores down.
Win First Down
Iowa actually did a pretty good job here and was able to force quite a few third-and-longs. Of Wisconsin’s 13 third downs, 9 of them were 3rd-and-8 or longer. Unfortunately, Stave was 4/5 on third down and all 4 of those completions were for first downs. Iowa actually did a great job stopping Gordon on third downs, though. He ran it four times on 3rd-and-short and only picked up the first down once.
Iowa did okay on offense on first down. The run game never got really got going, but Weisman had a few decent first down carries. Rudock was pretty successful on first down. He was 10/13 for 171 yards on first down.
Rudock had 8 passes of 20 or more yards. That was quite a few big plays. And that came against the nation’s number one defense. But Iowa didn’t have any game changers. The "trick" play went for 0 yards. Special teams didn’t do anything of note. The defense didn’t force a turnover. Nobody on offense broke a routine play for something more. Iowa attacked and was successful, but nothing more. That one game-changing play just never came. And that’s what Iowa was missing.
Before the season it looked reasonable to think that this Friday's game would have at least one if not both teams playing for the West. But now neither team has a shot at the division title and both are just playing for bowl positioning. Of the two, I’d think Nebraska has to be the more disheartened team and more likely to give up on the season. They were once a ranked team and looked like the clear favorites to win the West. They’ve now lost two in a row and when Iowa makes it three, they’ll be 8-4 and the PeLLLLini meme will be alive and well.