MADISON, Wis. – For every jubilant win, there is an equally depressing dud.
Iowa managed to take care of both in just two games.
Fresh off last week’s dismantling of Ohio State, the Hawkeyes reentered the national conversation as the No. 25 team in the AP poll and No. 20 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. Ahead of the ever-physical battle with Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes were trending at the right time.
Then the Badgers made a national statement.
Wisconsin maintained possession of the Heartland Trophy and clinched the Big Ten West Division Title with a 38-14 stopping of the Hawkeyes.
That’s what it was. A stopping.
“We’re not a bad team. They made us look bad tonight,” said Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. “That’s a credit to them.”
Wisconsin held Iowa to just 66 yards of total offense, the lowest total in the Ferentz era. Iowa converted just five first downs and failed on all 13 third down attempts
Per the usual, the defense kept it close in the first half, and for the second straight week, recorded a pick-six on the opening drive.
Last week, Amani Hooker took the first play of the game back to the house. This week, it was Josh Jackson’s turn.
Jackson intercepted Alex Hornibrook and returned it 43 yards to give Iowa the early 7-0 edge.
The Bednarik Award watch-list player wasn’t done impressing.
In the third quarter, Jackson took a tipped ball intended for Rachid Ibrahim and returned it 52 yards for his second pick-six of the game. Jackson now has five interceptions in the last two games.
“What he’s done the last two weeks statistically, I don’t know how you can do better than that,” Ferentz said. “That’s almost video game-type numbers.”
If you’re doing the math, you’ll see that Jackson’s scores are the only points Iowa mustered.
At the time of Jackson’s second pick, Iowa was holding on and trailed just 17-14. Wisconsin had scored on a field goal and two touchdowns from Kendric Pryor – one rushing, one receiving – in the second quarter.
The rest of the game was all Wisconsin.
With less than seven minutes left in the third quarter. Nate Stanley attempted to call an audible, but center James Daniels snapped it when Stanley wasn’t ready. The ball bounced off of Stanley, and he and Akrum Wadley appeared to fall on it.
In the pile, the ball squeaked out and was picked up by Leon Jacobs, who returned it 21 yards for a Badger touchdown. Because the Iowa offense was going nowhere all game, the 10-point lead felt more like 100.
The Badgers would score twice more in the fourth quarter on an eight-yard rush from Bradrick Shaw and on a five-yard completion to A.J. Taylor.
Despite throwing three interceptions – Jake Gervase also picked him off in the first quarter – Hornibrook finished the day at 11-for-18 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, true freshman and newly emerging Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor ran 29 times for 157 yards.
On offense, Iowa had nothing. The offensive line could not duplicate the push it got versus Ohio State, and it left no running room for Wadley or James Butler. The two each ran eight times and totaled 53 positive yards.
Receivers could not get separation, either. Stanley was forced to hold on to balls too long, which led to four sacks and a loss of 35 yards for the quarterback. Stanley targeted his tight ends just four times all game and only managed one six-yard completion to T.J. Hockenson. He was 8-for-24 for just 41 yards and one interception.
It was truly a dominating effort by Wisconsin. It’s easy to look at everything that went wrong for the Hawkeyes, but the Badgers made them go wrong. The 3-4 defensive alignment clearly made things hard on the offensive line, and the secondary had astounding coverage all game.
“Their defense is better than advertised,” Ferentz said. “I can’t imagine they’ve played a better game than that.”
Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0) has been waiting to make that statement for a while, and they finally have. With three teams ahead of them in the College Football Playoff rankings losing on Saturday, the Badgers are going to be much closer to the top four after this decisive victory. They play host to Michigan (8-2, 5-2) next week.
Iowa returns home for 2:30pm CST showdown with Purdue (4-6, 2-5) on BTN.