IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s hopes for a return trip to the Big Ten championship game are right up there with its chances of earning a second straight Rose Bowl bid.
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2) are mathematically alive in the West Division race but they have a date 20 days from now with Michigan. That’s like multiplying by zero. So, we’ll avoid any division title discussion from here on out because it’s irrelevant.
Iowa dropped its rivalry game with Wisconsin 17-9 on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium and has a bye this week. As for the Hawkeyes’ report card from its game with the Badgers, here’s a look:
Offense (2 stars)
This wasn’t pretty. Iowa struggled to establish anything on the ground, which wasn’t completely unexpected. But running for 83 yards on 27 carries wasn’t part of the plan. The passing game continues to struggle. QB C.J. Beathard completed just 17 of 33 passes for 153 yards. His primary target was RB Akrum Wadley, who hauled in seven passes for 72 yards. That might be the best way to move the ball through the air going forward.
Defense (3 stars)
There were some missed tackles and Iowa gave up some big plays. But considering Wisconsin held the ball nearly 15 minutes longer than the Hawkeyes, the defense did an admirable job of forcing the Badgers to grind in the running game. Wisconsin rushed for 3.5 yards a carry. But you can’t overlook the sloppy tackling in key situations. That led to several big plays, including a 17-yard touchdown reception by TE Troy Fumagalli. Still, giving up only 17 points was fairly impressive.
Special teams (4 stars)
Iowa’s special teams continues to shine. P Ron Coluzzi averaged 41.1 yards per punt and parked one at the 1-yard line. Kick returner Desmond King nearly scored on a 77-yard kickoff return. The only blemish was a missed 38-yard field goal from Keith Duncan with 5:25 left in the game. That left a mark.
Coaching (3 stars)
Too often in these situations it’s almost a zero-sum in grading the coaching. Win is an A-plus, lose is an F-minus. I thought Iowa was ready to play and appeared well-coached against the Badgers. The offense lacked imagination, but in a game like this, it’s not a sin to punt. The run defense is much tighter than it was a few weeks ago. But I do question the field-goal attempt on fourth-and-5 with 5:25 left in the game. Iowa was down eight points and hadn’t scored a touchdown. That would have been the time to go for the first down.
Overall (3 stars)
Iowa sits at its break 5-3, a decent record but not great. The Hawkeyes traded blows with the Badgers but just couldn’t convert in the most important situations. It’s strange to think the offense was Iowa’s strength entering the season but it can’t find any consistency. Likewise, the defense struggled stopping the run early and now it’s a much improved area, which the Hawkeyes showed on Saturday. Outside of its early-season win against Iowa State, Iowa has yet to put together a solid game in all three phases. That was true yet again on Saturday.