Spend a little time around the Iowa football program and you’re bound to hear the Hawkeyes talk about covering the fine details of a game.
You’ll hear them recite a lot of the same phrases about the little things and how the little things sometimes turn into big things in close games.
The Hawkeyes were in accord Saturday night that it wasn’t one play, one area or one sequence that resulted in a 31-30 loss against No. 10 Wisconsin.
It wasn’t just the last-minute when Iowa burned through three timeouts and didn’t save enough time to take a shot at the end zone or try a game-winning field goal.
It wasn’t just the gutsy fake punt the Badgers ran when they were faced with 4th-and-6 from their own 26 with around six minutes to play or Montee Ball’s subsequent 8-yard touchdown run.
It wasn’t just the botched field goal or the blocked extra-point in the first half, even though converting either one would have kept the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) on top of the conference standings.
Instead, the Badgers (7-1, 3-1) stayed in the Big Ten title chase while Iowa was left walking out of Kinnick Stadium with a smorgasbord of mistakes that left the Hawkeyes digesting defeat.
“You can’t focus on one play,” Iowa receiver Colin Sandeman said. “There’s going to be a million plays that we watch tomorrow that we want back.”
The Badgers had three scoring drives of 12 plays or more, including two that covered 80 yards. They did most of their work without three of their most dynamic playmakers – receiver Nick Toon, tight end Lance Kendricks and running back James White – and yet the Hawkeyes still couldn’t get key stops defensively.
“It ain’t nothing they did,” defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “It was what we did – we didn’t play hard enough.
“It’s all on the defense. We needed to put out the fire and we didn’t.”
The Hawkeyes thought they had things extinguished at one point. The lead changed hands eight times before Iowa went ahead 30-24 with 8:35 remaining – the game’s biggest advantage – and the Hawkeyes forced the Badgers into a punting situation.
The Hawkeyes dropped off into a punt return. Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman pulled the ball down and ran 17 yards to revive the drive.
“That was something we had seen on film,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “With the scheme that we run from a punt standpoint, certain teams are going to defend it differently and we had seen that they had gone with two edge pressures and were covering it down.”
It lit another fire Iowa’s defense couldn’t put out.
“Obviously a big, big play in the game,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Changed things around pretty dramatically.”
The Hawkeyes had their opportunity to answer, armed with three timeouts, 66 seconds on the clock and starting at their own 25. Iowa reached the Wisconsin 42 on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt and burned its second timeout to set up for 4th-and-1 with 14 seconds remaining.
A Stanzi sneak moved the chains, but the Hawkeyes ran into confusion after that. Stanzi motioned to spike the ball and stop the clock before dropping back into the shotgun. Iowa burned its last timeout with 12 seconds remaining.
“We took the timeout,” Ferentz said. “We could’ve (spiked) it. … You could flip a coin on that one. I don’t think it’s exactly the turning point.”
Iowa only got one more snap. Stanzi was pressured on the next play and threw a shovel pass to running back Adam Robinson, who couldn’t get out of bounds before a pair of Badgers tackled him.
“It looked like there might’ve been a little bit of confusion,” Stanzi said. “We’re not going to put the game on that play. There’s a lot of things we could’ve done better earlier in the game. Could it have been managed better? Absolutely. I’ll take the fault for that one. That’s got to be my job, I’ve got to know what’s going on, and we’ve got to have a better plan.”
The Hawkeyes were put in scramble mode by myriad mistakes earlier.
Iowa seized the lead on its first drive when Robinson scored on a 1-yard run, but Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt blocked the extra-point try.
The Hawkeyes wasted another scoring opportunity on their third possession when two penalties turned 3rd-and-inches from the Wisconsin 9 into 3rd-and-11. Iowa ran its field goal unit out and never attempted a kick when holder Ryan Donahue took off after a high snap and got buried.
“That’s just a couple example of many things we didn’t execute today,” said Robinson, who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown. “And they all came back to bite us in the butt later in the game.”
Meanwhile, the Badgers maximized their scoring opportunities in the second half. John Clay scored on a pair of 2-yard runs. The first came on Wisconsin’s opening drive of the second half when the 255-pound running back ran into the end zone on 4th-and-goal with 215-pound linebacker Lance Tillison on his back.
“I was just too high,” Tillison said. “I’ve just got to give a better effort. I thought I had a pretty good shot on him and he ended up crossing that (goal) line. I didn’t want to go too low and let him jump over my head, so I tried to nose it up in there. He won that one-on-one battle.”
The Badgers won a lot of those. They won just enough battles to leave the Hawkeyes with a smorgasbord of mistakes to digest.
“Anytime there’s a loss, you’re going to go back and scrutinize every little thing,” Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. “We’re an improvement-driven team, so for us, the course now is to look at those 50 or how-many-ever things that it was and make those improvements.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football