The Iowa coach reacts to a 38-14 loss to Wisconsin that wasn’t that close. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
MADISON, Wis. — Iowa's magical mystery tour through the Big Ten Conference continued Saturday with a confounding 38-14 loss to No. 3 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
A week after the most magical of victories, 55-24 over Ohio State, the Hawkeyes' offense mysteriously disappeared, failing to score a point against a salty Wisconsin defense that yielded only five first downs.
The loss dropped Iowa (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) to 0-3 in league road games, its offense having deserted it on each occasion. The Hawkeyes stayed in the game against Wisconsin only because cornerback Josh Jackson returned two interceptions for touchdowns, one in each half.
That gives Jackson seven interceptions for the season, and five in the past two weeks.
Iowa forced two other turnovers. But the defense wore down against a massive Wisconsin offensive line. The Badgers (10-0, 7-0) clinched the Big Ten West division crown and kept alive their hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Iowa was left to try to figure out how its fortunes could change so dramatically over the course of one week and prepare for its home finale next Saturday against Purdue.
"It's execution, it's focus. We've got to stay focused for an entire 60 minutes, and we haven't been able to do it yet," Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell said of his team's inability to win a league road contest, with one remaining at Nebraska. "I think we need to stack up leadership, and I think it's both sides of the ball. So I can do a better job of that, and I think all our seniors can do a better job."
Jackson, a junior cornerback, picked Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook on the fourth play of the game, leaping to snare an underthrown pass and returning it 43 yards untouched down the Wisconsin sideline for a quick Hawkeye lead.
It was the second consecutive week that the Hawkeyes had a pick-six on the opening possession of a game. Last Saturday, Hooker did it on the first play.
But Hooker suffered a bruise in that game and was out for the Wisconsin matchup. Senior Miles Taylor replaced him in the starting lineup.
Here's what we learned:
HAWKEYE OFFENSE STUCK: Iowa failed to convert any of its 13 third-down chances and averaged 1.3 yards per play. Its 66 yards of offense was the worst of coach Kirk Ferentz's 19-year tenure. It was an equal-opportunity no-show. The running game never got on track, and the passing game was the worst of the season. Compounding things were untimely penalties, dropped passes and three second-half turnovers, one of which directly resulted in a Wisconsin touchdown. Senior running back Akrum Wadley split time with James Butler, and neither was productive. Quarterback Nate Stanley completed three passes for five yards in the first half. He had five touchdown passes against the Buckeyes.
A week after going 7-for-7 in red-zone opportunities, the Hawkeyes didn't even come close to getting inside Wisconsin's 20-yard line.
"It's kind of been us this season. We're not good enough offensively to not execute cleanly. So little mis-throws, little inches make a difference," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You drop the ball, especially against a team like this, you're going to pay for it."
JACKSON IS ON A TEAR: Jackson had three interceptions last week and has broken up 15 passes on the year. Yet Wisconsin targeted him on its first pass, an incompletion, then tested him again on a third-and-13 throw one play later. It was a curious strategy. Jackson made the Badgers pay. He later took a deflected pass 52 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to cut the Wisconsin lead to 17-14 and offer a glimpse of hope to Hawkeye fans. Jackson also forced a fumble that cornerback Manny Rugamba recovered. Without him, this game would have been ugly from the get-go.
The Iowa cornerback is playing at an all-American level. Josh Jackson leads the nation with 5 interceptions. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
DO YOU LIKE PUNTING? There were 14 punts, nine of them by Iowa's Colten Rastetter. The Hawkeyes also punted nine times two weeks ago in beating Minnesota 17-10 at home. This is a sign that when Iowa's offense is struggling, it's really struggling.
WISCONSIN RB PACKS A PUNCH: Badgers freshman Jonathan Taylor came into the game averaging 152 yards on the ground per game, and he punished Iowa behind an aggressive offensive line. He gained 157 yards on 29 carries, 91 yards more than the entire Iowa offense.
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley had 8 carries for 23 yards in a 38-14 loss to Wisconsin. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral