MADISON, Wis. – A week after being the toast of the Big Ten, Iowa looked hungover Saturday. The Hawkeyes stumbled around through four quarters here, disconnected and ineffective.
They piled up mistakes as they had in early-season losses. Perhaps last Saturday’s 55-24 annihilation of then No. 3 Ohio State was at least, in part, an aberration.
The Buckeyes bounced back with a 48-3 demolition of Big Ten East leading Michigan State Saturday. Iowa regressed into an outfit handled easily by Wisconsin, 38-14, at Camp Randall Stadium.
It represented the worst beating for the Hawkeyes in this series since a 41-3 blowout in 1999, Kirk Ferentz’s first season as head coach. Their 66 yards of offense were the fewest of the Ferentz Era, outdoing their futile effort of 100 in a 44-7 setback at Arizona State in ’04. It also was the fewest Wisconsin ever allowed in a Big Ten game.
A little more of the post-Halloween horror story: Iowa was 0 of 13 on third down, managed just five first downs and their 66 yards were the third fewest by an FBS team ranked in the Top 25 during the last 20 seasons.
There’s no need to go on. It’d just be piling on.
The task was tough, for sure. Despite a less than daunting schedule to date, the sixth-ranked Badgers rolled through the competition en route to a 9-0 record coming into Saturday. There was no shame in losing to a team that’s now 17-2 in November during the last four seasons.
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It’s how Iowa lost that was mind boggling. The crispness with which it executed in all three phases just a week ago disappeared. It’s one-step forward was followed by two steps back.
Ferentz and his players looked as baffled Saturday as the Buckeyes did at Kinnick Stadium the week before. They complimented Wisconsin, admitted to playing poorly, and vowed to clean up their mistakes when returning to practice.
That’s all they could do. As quarterback Nate Stanley said, they couldn’t changed what happened in this collapse.
We’ll see if Iowa can rebound from another afternoon of dropping passes, lacking pass protection, throwing ill-advised balls, turning it over and looking inept. The motivation will come from within.
Wisconsin clinched its second consecutive West Division title Saturday. It’s won three of the last four. The Hawkeyes claimed it in ’15 but really haven’t threatened the last two years.
Ferentz balked at the suggestion that the Badgers hold a distinct advantage in program status right now. He repelled the suggestion that his team has some bad habits that have cost it in all four losses this season.
That doesn’t pass the smell test. Wisconsin is a superior program this decade, without question. And these Hawkeyes continue suffering from the same miscues they were making in September, whether you want to call them bad habits or not.
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Perhaps the most unsettling aspect about the Badgers winning five of the last six meetings with Iowa is that the programs pride themselves on playing the same way. More often than not during this run, they’re the more physical team.
Wisconsin rushed for 247 yards to the Hawkeyes’ 25. Iowa dusted the Buckeyes by pushing them around but failed again to do it against its nemesis to the north.
The Hawkeyes still can get to eight regular-season wins by closing it out against Purdue and Nebraska, two teams they’ll be favored to beat. They also can capture a bowl victory for the first time since ’10. Those are note-worthy accomplishments.
They left a piece of themselves in enemy territory on Saturday, however. An emasculating rivalry loss cut to the core and they’ll have to live with it for another year.