Iowa is finding ways to win. There have been a few blowouts. There have also been late touchdowns, a last second field goal, and now some absolutely smothering defense covering up a generally poor offensive outing. It feels like Iowa is ready for any situation this year. They are ready to win.
My other factors kind of missed the mark (I’ll still write about them though), but finishing drives, or rather the lack of finishing drives, was the biggest factor in Saturday’s game. It’s one of Iowa’s biggest cliches, but the defense bent but didn’t break…and there were plenty of opportunities for breakage. Each of Wisconsin’s six second half drives made it to at least Iowa’s 40-yard line, and the Hawkeye defense held them to just 3 points.
It was a little bit of everything from the defense. Desmond King had a pair of picks (one was in the first half). Drew Ott had a strip sack. There were a few critical third downs where Iowa got pressure on Joel Stave and Wisconsin decided to punt. There was also the goal line fumble.
In all, the Badgers had been averaging 5.46 points per trip inside their opponent’s 40; against Iowa they had eight shots and came away with a measly 6 points, or just 0.75 points per trip….well, well, well below their average. While Iowa didn’t sniff Wisconsin’s side of the field in the second half, they ended all five of their first half drives inside the Badger 40-yard line and came away with 10 points (1.67 points per trip). And while that’s not much better, it was enough.
Last Year’s Second Half
I thought Iowa might be able to attack Wisconsin’s secondary, but wow was I wrong. C.J. Beathard had almost no time to sit in the pocket and when we did have time he had nobody open to throw the ball to. The injuries to Boone Myers and Tevaun Smith played a role here. But I also don’t think Iowa will see too many more players like Joe Schobert this year.
The running game though, went better than expected. If there was anything other than the turnovers by Stave that tilted the game towards Iowa, it was probably Jordan Canzeri’s success running the ball. He had 125 yards on 26 carries and was the key part of Iowa's two scoring drives…even if they were just 31 and 1-yard drives.
The Stars Align
This part on Friday was originally about Iowa’s star players Beathard, Canzeri, and King. But I’ve already kind of hit on all of them. Beathard struggled as he was constantly hurried. Canzeri played very well and was the clear best part of Iowa’s offense. And King was great: 2 interceptions, 8 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and 80 all-purpose yards (which was the second-most behind only Canzeri for either team).
But Saturday the stars aligned for Iowa in the luck department, too. Iowa had a C.J. Beathard interception reversed thanks to a Badger penalty. That would have given the ball to Wisconsin deep in Iowa’s territory. Instead, Iowa moved down the field and earned a chip-shot field goal attempt that Mashall Koehn surprisingly missed.
Towards the end of summer, I wrote about how Iowa's bad luck in recovering fumbles last year should regress towards the mean this year. And so far, things have been going a tiny bit better for Iowa. Iowa has recovered 5 of 13 fumbles this year (which still isn’t very good). But Iowa recovered the two most critical fumbles on Saturday (Stave's fumble at the goal line and Canzeri's fumble deep in Iowa territory late in the fourth quarter) -- if either of those fumbles had ended up in Wisconsin’s hands, their odds of winning the game would have gone way up.
I used the calculator on Advanced Football Analytics to see what the results would have been if Wisconsin had recovered each of those fumbles. The first fumble was the mangled hand-off where Stave tripped over his own lineman. Before the snap, the calculator puts the odds at 63% for Wisconsin winning. Even after the fumble, if the Badgers had recovered, they would have still had a 53% chance. But when Iowa recovered, the odds tipped and Iowa suddenly was 74% to win.
The second fumble was the Canzeri fumble deep in Iowa territory, which would have given Wisconsin the ball on Iowa’s 15-yard line with 3:03 left, down just 4. The calculator gives the Badgers a 51% chance of winning in that situation. Instead Iowa recovered the ball (thanks, Cole Croston!) and again had a 74% chance of winning the game, facing a 3rd-and-7.
So maybe this was the resurrection of Old Kirk. But it wasn’t a total reversion. Ferentz was once again the more aggressive coach and it paid off. Twice Paul Chryst punted from inside Iowa’s 40, including one from the Iowa 33. Ferentz also elected to punt from the 40 once, but he also went for it twice on 4th down. The first was on Iowa’s second drive of the game from the Wisconsin 2 yard line and set the aggressive tone, although it failed. Ferentz has been going for it in those sort of situations for a few years now. The more surprising attempt was in the fourth quarter with Iowa backed up on their own 25-yard line. Iowa was looking at a 4th-and-inches, but with the offensive line getting decent push in the running game, KF let Beathard sneak it and they got the first down. (That one didn’t really work out as Beathard fumbled the next play and gave Wisconsin the ball with great field position…a punt probably would have been better in hindsight.)
Let’s fill Kinnick again. The team is 5-0. It’s Homecoming. Illinois might be a decent opponent (at least as decent as anyone left on the home schedule). And we’re just having fun. See you all in Iowa City on Saturday.