IOWA CITY — None of Corey Clement’s first 31 carries went for longer than eight yards.
But the Wisconsin star’s 32nd broke Iowa’s back.
With the Badgers nursing a 14-6 lead after Iowa missed a field goal with 5½ minutes to play, Clement ran to the left side on a third-and-1 call, and he broke the tackle attempt by middle linebacker Josey Jewell and scampered for 34 yards.
Even the Hawkeyes’ surest tackler couldn’t finish the job Saturday.
“There was a lot of missed tackles out there today,” said Jewell, who still made a team-high 16 of them. “Me included.”
Even Desmond King got beat. The all-America cornerback whiffed on a strip-tackle attempt of freshman Kyle Penniston, who turned the mistake into a 54-yard gain.
Another missed-tackle regret was safety Miles Taylor failing to wrap up Troy Fumagalli on a second-quarter reception that turned into a 17-yard touchdown for the game’s first points.
Poor tackling contributed to Wisconsin converting eight of 17 third downs, compared with Iowa’s 2-for-13.
“We’ve got to work better on those first two downs,” Jewell said.
Clement wound up with 35 carries for 134 yards — and a 3.8 per-carry average that Iowa’s defense probably could live with.
But with an offense struggling, the defense had to be perfect — and it wasn’t.
“The plays that stick in my mind are the ones where I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie said. “Those are the ones that are burning a hole in my head right now. Right after this, I’m going to go back and look at that film.”
King still comes up big
Though King had the noticeable gaffe, he was still one of Iowa’s clutch players Saturday.
The cornerback not only tied a career high with 12 tackles, he provided a heady fumble recovery in the end zone after Clement fumbled trying to dive into the end zone. Jewell knocked the ball loose.
“That’s when it comes down to being tough to make a play. Greg (Mabin) made a great play, chasing the guy (Penniston) down and giving us another opportunity to play another four downs,” King said. “You’ve got to step up and make a play on the goal line, and that’s what we did.”
King also accounted for Iowa’s only real big play — a career-best 77-yard kickoff return that set up Iowa’s last-of-three field goals. Prior to that, Iowa’s longest play was a 17-yard pass completion from C.J. Beathard to Akrum Wadley.
Safe to say, King is the Hawkeyes’ MVP through eight games.
(Get ready for a bye week filled with more King-to-offense pleas from the Hawkeye fan base.)
Under further review
There were seven replay reviews Saturday, none probably bigger than the first.
Jewell was flagged for a targeting personal foul after his hit of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook. By rule, those calls automatically go to the replay booth to determine whether it was indeed targeting — which would result in an ejection.
But Jewell got a respite this time, unlike when he was ejected in Iowa’s opener against Miami of Ohio.
“I was just hoping it wasn’t,” he said. “I didn’t feel like it was right away.”
Both Wisconsin touchdowns were upheld on replay review (with questions of whether the player crossed the goal line), while Iowa had one overturned — officials ruling that Noah Fant trapped what was initially a 7-yard TD catch.
A week after exploding for 365 net rushing yards at Purdue, Iowa was held to 83 — with a long rush of 12 yards.
The Hawkeyes were using their seventh starting offensive-line combination in eight weeks, with Boone Myers missing the game with an ankle injury. Ike Boettger, the only Hawkeye lineman to start every game this fall, made his first career start at left tackle.
“They made it tough for us to run the football today,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We anticipated that. But our fits didn’t always look quite like what you want. We never really got into a rhythm there.”
The B1G picture
Mathematically, Iowa’s path to a Big Ten Conference West Division title has become very narrow.
Any chance of it happening would require the Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) to sweep the rest of their games — road wins at Penn State and Illinois and home games vs. No. 4 Michigan and No. 9 Nebraska. A tall order for how this team looks, sure.
But, play along … let’s say Iowa does that.
It would essentially need Northwestern (4-3, 3-1) to lose twice more (at Ohio State, vs. Wisconsin, at Minnesota loom) and have Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) beat Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) next week, then lose to Ohio State and Iowa. That would leave Iowa and Nebraska at 7-2 each in the Big Ten, with the Hawkeyes winning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“You can always find motivation. Every game’s a big game,” Beathard said. “I’m not worried at all about big picture, and we weren’t before in this game, either.”