IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa took the opening kickoff Saturday and held the ball for just 78 seconds before punting.
It was the first of five three-and-outs for a Hawkeye offense that simply couldn’t measure up against No. 10 Wisconsin in a 17-9 loss at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa averaged 3.9 yards on its 60 plays, none longer than a 21-yard completion from C.J. Beathard to tailback Akrum Wadley with a minute remaining.
The Hawkeyes converted only 2-of-13 third-down plays and were 0-for-6 in the second half.
Iowa had the football for a season-low 23 minutes, and its defense looked the worse for wear as a result. Ultimately, there were too many missed tackles, even by the Hawkeyes’ best players — Desmond King and Josey Jewell.
“You get a little beat up. They run a lot of power ‘O’ at you, a lot of down-the-middle stuff,” Jewell said after tying a career high with 16 tackles but whiffing on a big one late to allow Wisconsin running back Corey Clement to gain 34 yards on third-and-1. “We’ve just got to keep on getting better at that kind of stuff, to be able to not worry about fatigue, put it to the back of your head and just keep giving full effort.”
That sounds good, but it was up to the Iowa offense to keep the defense fresh Saturday against the most physical team it has faced this season. That had been a winning formula for the Hawkeyes the past two weeks — when the offense controlled the clock for 35 minutes at Minnesota and 36 at Purdue.
It didn’t happen Saturday, because the Badgers clogged up the running lanes and the Hawkeyes’ passing game was too toothless to make them pay.
Iowa tailbacks LeShun Daniels Jr. and Wadley carried 20 times for 79 yards, less than half their usual output. In contrast, the Badgers kept handing the ball to Clement — a career-high 35 times — and he churned out 134 tough yards.
“They did a great job of getting off blocks and making tackles, making the plays they had to make. When there’s holes out there, they’re tiny. You’ve got to kind of make do with what you can. You have to get your pads down and get what kind of yards that you possibly can,” Daniels said.
“We couldn’t really get the running game going, a nice little flow like we have the past few games.”
Beathard completed 17 of 33 passes for 153 yards, another pedestrian outing in what has become a disappointing season for the senior. Iowa’s passing-game ineptitude was best summed up in back-to-back plays in the second quarter, just after Wisconsin had taken a 7-0 lead.
First, Beathard launched a beautiful pass down the near sideline to Jay Scheel, who appeared to hesitate, then lunged at the football, which glanced off of his fingertips. That was the best opportunity the Hawkeyes had for a big play, and it came up tantalizingly short.
Beathard’s next pass was to an open Wadley wheeling out of the backfield past a Wisconsin linebacker. This one had too much air under it and sailed beyond Wadley’s reach. Iowa punted two plays later.
“The defense was playing their tail off. When we can’t move the football and get us those points, it’s extremely tough on us on as an offense. Then you’re putting the defense back out there with virtually no rest,” Daniels lamented. “You have to convert.”
Things got even more agonizing the next time Iowa got the ball, at Wisconsin’s 44-yard line. On a third-and-6 from the Badger 24, Beathard zipped an apparent touchdown pass to Riley McCarron. The crowd roared, players celebrated, the referees huddled.
The Hawkeyes had called timeout just before the snap. D’oh!
“I wasn’t aware they called a timeout,” guard Sean Welsh said.
“We’re literally out there just running plays. I thought we scored and we were getting ready to go up and put two more (points) on the board. That’s what we were thinking.”
Think again. Iowa settled for its first of three field goals. It wasn’t nearly enough.
Eventually, Iowa’s defense couldn’t keep up. Wisconsin converted 8-of-17 third downs to keep the pressure on, mixing in six plays that covered 20 yards or more.
“If our offense isn’t really doing what they need to do, there’s no argument. Our defense really needs to pick it up every time,” defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson rationalized.
“There were times where we had momentum and there were times where they took it away from us. When they took it away from us, we couldn’t hang our heads, we couldn’t pout. We had to get it back.”
It was a valiant effort. But asking your defense to spend 37 minutes on the field against the 10th-ranked team in the nation is asking too much. At least 7 minutes too much.