After a two-year absence, the Iowa Hawkeyes renewed their rivalry with the Wisconsin Badgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Both teams sputtered out of the gate but Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) took advantage of some costly Hawkeye miscues and defeated Iowa (5-4, 2-3), 28-9. Let's take a look back and grade Iowa's performance.
It was a rough day for the Iowa quarterbacks against Wisconsin. Jake Rudock started the game and looked out of sync almost right from the start. While there was a relatively strong wind throughout, Rudock was off on several passes, even the short-range passes that he has usually been accurate with this season. He still displayed his usual strong pocket awareness, though he did get happy feet on a few plays in which he could have waited to see if anything opened up. He was also too quick at progressing away from his deep options, instead being content to dump it off short.
Rudock would go on to suffer a sprained knee in the third quarter and was replaced by C.J. Beathard. If Rudock's problem was a failure to look for downfield options, then Beathard had the exact opposite problem. Although Iowa was trailing by eight when he entered the game, the freshman quarterback was slinging the ball deep on almost every attempt and missed some open check down options in the process.
Overall, neither quarterback looked all that impressive against the Badgers. Rudock ended his day 12 of 24 for 109 yards and an interception. He also ran four times for 18 yards. Beathard, meanwhile, was 4 of 15 for 70 yards and an interception, while running four times for 4 yards. Grade: D-
The running backs had another tough day at the office on Saturday. Four different running backs received carries against the Badgers and it wasn't until the fourth option entered the game that the Hawkeyes saw any kind of meaningful success. The Hawkeyes often looked a step often on Saturday, often failing to get to the outside or hit the hole before it closed. While the running room weren't always plentiful, the Iowa backs had trouble finding the holes that were available, often missing lanes that opened up for them.
Mark Weisman was the starter and struggled in his limited time, finishing with nine carries for 15 yards. His performance can be partly attributed to injuries, however, as he left the game early due to some lingering problems. Damon Bullock was next in line and did not fare any better, ending his day with six carries for 6 yards and three receptions for 39 yards. LeShun Daniels was the third back out of the backfield and had four carries for 14 yards. Jordan Canzeri entered the game after the first three backs failed to generate much production and immediately ripped off a 43-yard run, the longest of the season for Iowa. He would finish his day with five carries for 58 yards and salvaged an otherwise lackluster Hawkeye rushing attack. Grade: D+
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Continuing a theme for the offense on Saturday, the Iowa receivers had a tough time putting anything together against the Badgers. While they certainly were not aided by the inaccuracy of the quarterbacks nor a gusty wind, the receivers had their own problems. There were dropped passes, poor routes and a lack of separation from the defense, a problematic development with a running game that had struggles of its own. Though they were able to get open on occasion, it was too infrequent to provide much difference.
Damon Powell led the group three receptions for 43 yards, while Don Shumpert had two for 35 yards. Tevaun Smith had two receptions for 26 yards, while Jake Duzey and Kevonte Martin-Manley also caught two passes for 8 and 6 yards, respectively. C.J. Fiedorowicz caught one pass for 16 yards and Matt VandeBerg added one reception for 6 yards. Grade: D
The offensive line turned in an inconsistent effort on Saturday. Although the rushing numbers were less than impressive, the running lanes were there at times; the Iowa running backs just failed to notice them or were too slow attacking the lane and it closed up around them. The pass protection was an issue for much of the game, however, as both Rudock and Beathard were feeling pressure on a consistent basis. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing up to this point, but things appeared to get more difficult after guard Jordan Walsh left the game with an ankle injury. Although the injury didn't appear to be too serious, his status for next week is still up in the air at this point. Grade: D
Overall Offensive Grade: F
There isn't much mystery when it comes to this grade. The offense managed just 9 points and 294 yards of total offense, with 64 of those yards coming in garbage time on Iowa's final possession of the game. One of the most confusing aspects of the offense is the recurring lack of involvement of the tight ends. With the receivers struggling for much of the season, Iowa was able to use the tight ends to great effect against Ohio State thanks to the successful use of three tight end sets. For whatever reason, however, the tight ends (and that particular formation) have once again taken a backseat in the offense, despite its previous production.
Going up against a strong running game, the defensive line was able to hold Wisconsin in check for much of the game before finally wearing down in the second half. The Hawkeyes were able to attack the line and contain running backs James White and Melvin Gordon before they could really break free. The pass rush was also solid, with the D-line forcing quarterback Joel Stave into several rushed passes. Things changed after halftime, however, as the Badgers were finally able to get some traction on offense.
Mike Hardy led the defensive line with four tackles. Carl Davis added three tackles, while Drew Ott had two. Grade: B-
The play of the linebackers was strong yet again on Saturday, combining with the defensive line to keep the Wisconsin running game relatively quiet for much of the game. The linebacker corps filled the gaps well, cutting off possible running lanes for White and Gordon. They also played well in pass coverage, though they weren't really challenged all that much in that regard. Like the rest of the defense, they struggled a bit in the second half, but overall, it was another good outing by the experienced group.
Senior James Morris continued his impressive play in his final season and finished with a game-high 12 tackles (2 TFL) and Iowa's lone sack. Christian Kirksey got back into double-digit tackles with 11 to go along with two quarterback hurries, while Anthony HItchens rounded out the senior trio with seven tackles (1.5 TFL). Grade: B+
As has often been the case this season, the play of the defensive backs was a little up and down against the Badgers. They played relatively well against the run, though Iowa's pass coverage was shaky at times, with coverage breakdowns, poor communication and tackling issues once again coming into play. Both of Wisconsin's touchdown passes were a direct result not of any extraordinary play by its receivers, but rather a breakdown in coverage by Iowa that left the receivers wide open.
John Lowdermilk paced the group with 11 tackles. Desmond King added seven tackles, while B.J. Lowery had six to go along with a forced fumble and two broken up passes. Tanner Miller finished with four tackles and an interception. Grade: C
Overall Defensive Grade: B-
Wisconsin may have scored 28 points against the Iowa defense, but that total is a little misleading. The Iowa offense turned the ball over twice deep within its own territory and the Badgers were able to convert both of those short fields into touchdowns. The Hawkeyes held a Wisconsin offense that had been averaging over 500 yards of total offense to just 362, though the defense did appear to wear down in the second half; the Badgers picked up 226 yards and 21 points after halftime.
The special teams had a good game on Saturday, as there really weren't any negatives to speak of. Mike Meyer essentially was the Iowa offense and drilled all three of his field goal attempts (28, 22, 29). Connor Kornbrath averaged 41.1 yards per punt and placed three of his punts inside the 20-yard line. While the return game wasn't particularly of note, the coverage teams did a good job of limiting any Wisconsin returns. Grade: B
Overall Grade: D+
This game was a microcosm of the Big Ten season for Iowa thus far. Play well in the first half only to take a step back after halftime. The offense could never get anything going regardless of what half it was, while the defense wore down in the second under the pressure of trying to keep Wisconsin off the scoreboard. Can Iowa rebound in time to finish the season strong? That is the big question.
Stat of the Game: 0
The Hawkeyes scored zero points in the fourth quarter, continuing a season-long trend for Iowa. While the overall second-half performance of the offense in Big Ten play hasn't been great (Iowa has been outscored, 78-16), it is even worse in the fourth quarter, with the Hawkeyes managing just 3 fourth-quarter points in five conference games.
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