IOWA CITY, Ia. - Everyone knew a day like Saturday would arrive during Iowa’s 2013 football season, right?
It was a matter of time before Iowa quarterbacks played closer to their ages and jersey numbers, succumbing to the missteps of signal-calling youth that quickly shape the outcome of Big Ten games.
For sophomore starter Jake Rudock, it showed on a back-foot, off-balance throw from the end zone mid-way through the third quarter of Iowa’s 28-9 loss against No. 22 Wisconsin. For backup C.J. Beathard, the moment came as he rifled a ball directly into the helmet of an offensive lineman for a fourth-quarter pickoff.
One play provided Wisconsin the cushion. The other snuffed Iowa’s shot at a comeback like a boot firmly planted on a cigarette.
When the Hawkeyes needed a third-down conversion most, the odds of a Hawkeye completion felt akin to a poker pro drawing to an inside straight. Ten of Iowa’s 14 drives lasted less than two minutes and 12 of the 14 failed to reach the 3-minute mark.
The inability to sustain the chain-moving was most painfully apparent in the first half, when Iowa scored six points on four trips into Wisconsin territory and a fifth within arm’s reach of midfield.
“To come up short,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of those early drives, “that was a big factor in the game.”
The combination of the sophomore Rudock and Beathard, the redshirt freshman with more hair than helmet, completed just 40 percent of their attempts — the lowest since a Ricky Stanzi-James Vandenberg loss to Northwestern 2009.
In games with 40 or more attempts, it was the lowest completion percentage since 2005.
Ferentz pointed out, rightly, that Iowa’s ground game offered few favors. Iowa ran for just 115 yards, but it actually felt like less if a late 43-yard run from Jordan Canzeri was subtracted from the discussion.
Wisconsin, worth noting, is one of the best in the business at derailing rushing plans — No. 4 in the country, allowing 87.6 yards per game.
“I’m not sure we helped him enough,” Ferentz said of Rudock, noting dropped passes and penalties to add a few brush strokes to the bigger picture. “It’s better if you can get the running game going. And our protection could have been better, too. Offense is such a team thing, typically.”
Rudock left the game with a sprained knee after his third-quarter interception became a Wisconsin touchdown one play later. Ferentz said he could have returned later and should be ready to play next weekend, when a game at spiraling Purdue seems like a sure-fire ticket to Iowa’s sixth victory and bowl eligibility.
The Wisconsin game underscored, however, that each decision in the pocket feels magnified when the offensive margin for error is as thin as it is for Iowa.
The lack of experience and overall offensive firepower makes a win against a powerful and polished conference foe like Wisconsin (or Michigan State before it) feel close, yet frustratingly out of reach.
There’s little doubt plenty of bright days are ahead for Iowa’s quarterbacks. Rudock continues to exceed expectations in his first lap, and Beathard’s arm strength has fans dreaming of deep routes down the road.
“I don’t think we’re that far away,” Ferentz said.
On Saturday, though, Iowa gave up touchdowns for field goals like a basketball team trading 3s for 2s.
Statistically, the Hawkeyes hung with the same Badger team that stayed within a touchdown of No. 4 Ohio State. The difference: Joel Stave was able to make a pair of big touchdown throws against the tough defense he faced.
“When I first got in there, I was trying to get the guys going,” said Beathard, who went 4-for-16. “We were a little dead offensively — so I tried to get a drive going and get them pumped up a little bit.”
Iowa has made strides, as its game at Ohio State, win against Northwestern and defensive effort versus Wisconsin illustrate.
The Hawkeyes also are positioned for a bowl with a defense that gives it a puncher’s chance to dig out a win against Michigan or Nebraska. That’s progress for a team coming off a four-win season that was almost universally picked to finish last in the Legends Division.
The step that transforms a good team into something more, though, almost always begins and ends with the set of feet under center.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football