• Travis Thornburgh

Game Recap: Wisconsin Badgers

Initial Takeaways:

- Two words tell the story of this game: Jonathan Taylor

- For the first time all season, the defense looked vulnerable. Iowa knew that Jonathan Taylor was going to be a huge part of the Badger gameplan and they still couldn't stop him.

- Despite a slow start, the offense showed signs of life as the game wore on. Moving forward, there should be more consideration given to the no huddle type offense. Stanley looks really comfortable running it and it helps the offense develop a rhythm. A high octane, super fast offense isn't necessary, but a little tempo may help the offense get going earlier in games.

- The offensive line continued to improve week to week, and there appears to be a comfort level with the lineup of Jackson, Kallenberger, Linderbaum, Schott, and Wirfs. There is just one play that comes to mind where there was a blown blocking assignment in pass protection and it came early in the game.

- At the time, the 2-point conversion play call didn't make a ton of sense, but the more I think about it, I don't mind the call. Stanley has a big frame and came within inches of the endzone. Slightly better blocking or the umpire not impeding Sargent's block and Stanley gets in. It should also be noted that the lineman blocking against Linderbaum should have been called for hands to the face on the play, setting up another attempt.

- Although the Big Ten West is likely off the table, this team still has a chance to win 10 games and finish a very successful season.

Views From the Corner of Kinnick

Saturday's game was another disappointing chapter in Iowa's quest to retake the Heartland Trophy. This year's edition certainly went better than the last trip to Madison, but Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor just proved to be too much. At some point in the second half, I remember uttering the words, "How many times has Iowa actually tackled Jonathan Taylor today?" Taylor racked up an impressive 250 rushing yards and very rarely went to the turf, with the Iowa defenders being forced to stack him up and just stop his forward progress instead of tackling him. Iowa put up a valiant effort late, mounting a 12 point 4th quarter and coming within inches of tying the game on a 2-point conversion with just over 3 minutes left. Wisconsin proved to be just good enough and retained the Heartland Trophy for another year.

The game started well enough for Iowa, as they traded punts with the Badgers on the first two possessions. On the second Badger possession, Iowa appeared to be in business after A.J. Epenesa forced a strip sack of Badger quarterback Jack Coan. The Iowa offense took over at the Wisconsin 16 yard line, but settled for the a Keith Duncan field goal to put them up 3-0. Wisconsin looked poised to even the score on their ensuing possession, but failed to convert the 31 yard field goal try, missing it wide left. Iowa took over possession and was in the midst of a 6 play, 39 yard drive before a bad snap between Linderbaum and Stanley gave the Badgers the ball at the their own 41. Wisconsin made Iowa pay with a 7 play, 59 yard drive that ended with a Badger touchdown. Iowa looked poised to retake the lead, as they constructed an 8 play, 53 yard drive, but the drive fizzled out near the Wisconsin redzone and the Hawks settled for a field goal that pushed Keith Duncan into the top spot for field goals made in a single season. Wisconsin continued their offensive success late in the half, as they went on a 13 play, 76 yard touchdown drive that pushed the halftime deficit to 14-6.

The second half began slow for both offenses, as the first three Iowa possessions and first two Wisconsin possessions resulted in punts. On its third possession of the second half, Wisconsin extended the lead on a 4 play, 86 yard drive aided by a 52 yard pass to wide receiver Quintez Cephus. Iowa would respond, mounting a 9 play, 75 yard drive capped by a laser from Nate Stanley to Nico Rigaini in the endzone to draw the Hawks within 8. Iowa again seemed to be in business when Matt Hankins intercepted a Jack Coan pass at Wisconsin's 47 yard line. Iowa would fail to turn the interception into a touchdown when they settled for another Keith Duncan field goal to pull within 5 at 21-16. Wisconsin matched the Iowa 10 play drive, traversing 64 yards and settling for a field goal of their own that pushed the lead to 24-16 with 3:29 left in the game. The Iowa offense responded, using just 16 seconds and a 75 yard pass play to Tyrone Tracy Jr to draw within 2 and a chance to tie. Nate Stanley kept the ball on a quarterback draw that came within a foot of tying the game. Iowa chose to kick it deep following the failed two-point conversion and needed a quick stop from its defense for a chance to win the game. Wisconsin's domination in the run game proved to be too much for the Iowa defense, and two first downs later Wisconsin ran the clock out.

All told, Wisconsin held off a late surge from the Iowa offense to win by a score of 24-22.

The ultimate undoing of Iowa on Saturday was time of possession. Wisconsin was expected to hold a slight edge in time of possession because of their prowess running the football, but Wisconsin dominated the clock on Saturday. The Iowa defense spent nearly 38 minutes on the field, and their fatigue showed on Wisconsin's final drive when they couldn't come up with a much needed stop to give the offense a chance. Although much of the blame falls onto the offense's inability to run the ball, the defense didn't do themselves many favors early in the game. The Iowa defense allowed a number of long drives in the first half, where they just couldn't get off the field and the fatigue stacked up early. The time of possession was much more even in the second half, but by then the damage had been done.

It was more of the same when it comes to the Iowa offense in a lot of ways this week. The offense started slow, accumulating just 116 yards in the first half and failed to score a touchdown the half, including settling for a field goal on a drive that started inside the Wisconsin redzone. The offense certainly looked better in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, and developed a rhythm when they started to show more urgency. That could be the key for the Iowa offense to find success earlier in games. Iowa doesn't need to go to an all out hurry up, no huddle style offense, but some early no huddle looks or committing to throwing the football to set up the run could go a long way toward Iowa turning the corner on what has been a sluggish offensive Big Ten season for the Hawkeyes.

Saturday certainly wasn't the best day of Stanley's career, but he continued to show level-headedness and poise under pressure, guiding Iowa back from 21-6 deficit to having a chance to tie the game late. With his two touchdown passes on Saturday, Nate Stanley pulled within 6 passing touchdowns of Chuck Long's all-time mark with just 4 games remaining in his Iowa career. He continued to distribute the football, finding 6 different pass catchers on 17 completions and seems to have developed chemistry with Tyrone Tracy Jr. Tracy Jr. continued to shine in the absence of Brandon Smith as he topped the 100 yard mark, including his 75 yard catch and run that pulled Iowa within 2 late in the game. With the emergence of Tracy, Iowa has three legitimate deep threats with three very different skill sets in Smith-Marsette, Smith, and now Tracy, all of whom are likely to return next year.

The Iowa run game continued to struggle, as Iowa runners failed to eclipse the 100 yard mark again on Saturday. Toren Young was the workhorse against the Badgers, carrying the ball 9 times for 44 yards. There was an obvious emphasis on physicality, as Tyler Goodson and Mehki Sargent combined for just 9 carries behind Young.

Moving forward, the Iowa offense needs to figure something out in the running game and find ways to start games faster. Whether that is completely flipping the Iowa philosophy on its head by showing some no-huddle or tempo early in the game, or throwing the ball early to set up the run, something has to change as the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers come to town.

Despite much of the ire from the fanbase being directed at the Iowa offense, the biggest storyline to come out of this game was the defense's inability to stop the Badger run game. Iowa should have entered the game expecting Jonathan Taylor to be the focal point of the Wisconsin offense, and he was just that. On 32 touches, Taylor accumulated 258 total yards and accounted for over 55% of the Badger's offense with ease. Iowa frequently couldn't put Taylor on the ground either forcing his forward progress to be stopped or forcing him out of bounds, but rarely tackling him. Despite him likely being the focal point of every scouting report, Iowa had no answers for Taylor and Wisconsin was doing the Hawks a favor anytime they threw the football.

One bright spot for the Iowa defense was their continued improvement in forcing opponent turnovers, as the Hawks forced two key turnovers that they would turn into 6 points on a pair of Keith Duncan field goals. In recent weeks, the Hawkeye defense has shown an improved ability to force opponents into costly mistakes and continuing that trend could really help the offense exorcise some of its demons with short fields.

Iowa's special teams continued to be the most consistent of its units. Keith Duncan converted on his 20th, 21st, and 22nd field goal makes of the year, as he continues to lead the nation in that category and has set the new all-time mark for made field goals in a single season at Iowa. Michael Sleep-Dalton continued to provide a steady and reliable option in the punt game, averaging 41.3 yards per punt on four punts, with all four punts being downed inside the Wisconsin 20. The Iowa return game was a non-factor, with Ihmir Smith-Marsette returning just one kickoff for 22 yards.

Ultimately, this game came down to exactly what everyone expected. It was a knockdown, drag out, slugfest that likely left both teams battered and bruised. Iowa came up just short in a game where they had opportunities to upend the Badgers, but couldn't come up with the deciding blow. They couldn't come up with enough plays early on offense, settled for too many Keith Duncan field goals, and gave up too many yards to an All-American running back. There aren't new concerns that arose from this game, as many of the problems that have plagued this Iowa season continued. The major difference was, that for the first time the offense's inability to stay on the field spilled over and impacted the defense's performance. Moving forward, the offense needs to continue to search for consistency in the run game and find a way to keep the opposing offense off the field. That task certainly doesn't get any easier as Iowa will welcome the 8th ranked and undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers to Kinnick Stadium next Saturday.

Travis's Player of the Game: Tyrone Tracy Jr. - 5 Receptions, 130 Receiving Yards, 1 Touchdown, Long Catch of 75 yards

Up Next: The No. 8 Minnesota Golden Gophers 9-0 (6-0 in the Big Ten) will visit Kinnick Stadium for a 3:00 P.M. kickoff on FOX.

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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!

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About Travis

A lifelong Hawkeye fan and a 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa in Civil Engineering, Travis now calls Des Moines, Iowa home and continues to passionately follow University of Iowa athletics

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