Howe: The Hawkeyes’ Moment of Truth Has Arrived

September 15, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – And now, the moment of truth has arrived for Iowa football.

No disrespect to Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but we’ve all been anxiously awaiting next week’s showdown with Wisconsin. Sure, winning the three non-conference contests should have been soaked up and enjoyed but the showdown with the Badgers was always judgement day.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said this offseason that the road to the Big Ten West title goes through Madison. Wisconsin has won it in three of the last four seasons. When Iowa claimed it in 2015, it beat the Badgers.

Wisconsin came into this year as the heavy favorite to take it again. A few talking heads considered the Hawkeyes a contender but not many. Recent history wasn’t on their side.

You can expect to see more of them jumping on the Black and Gold this week. It overwhelmed Northern Iowa of the FCS, 38-14, Saturday here at Kinnick Stadium while the No. 6 Badgers fell to heavy underdog BYU at home.

It’s the Hawkeyes at home under the lights against a favored team. Michigan of ’16 and ’17 Ohio State can tell of that tall task, both seeing their playoff dreams die in the historic venue after dark.

As we know, that doesn’t guarantee victory. Neither does offensive line coach Tim Polasek saying Iowa is close to being able to overtake the Badgers as king of the West. The Hawkeyes must make up plenty of ground after last year’s shellacking at Camp Randall.

A week after Iowa upset Ohio State 55-24, Wisconsin thumped it 33-14 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Hawkeyes were held to 66 total yards and were 0 for 13 on third down. Josh Jackson’s pair of Pick-6s were the lone bright spot.

If you’re on Iowa’s side, you hope that was the bottom. It certainly should serve as motivation.

“They elevated the standard in the Big Ten West,” Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley said. “You have to beat them. They’re the reigning champs two years in a row. They set the standard high and we’re doing everything we can to match that.”

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The Iowa defense showed through two weeks that it was ready for primetime, the first-team unit allowing only a field goal against NIU and ISU. It was good again Saturday, allowing just six rushing yards on 21 carries.

The offense caught up on this night, rolling up 545 yards on the overmatched Panthers. It squeezed off 81 plays.

Stanley, who had struggled with accuracy coming into the action, enjoyed his best game of the season. The junior from Wisconsin completed 23 of 28 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.

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The receivers also broke out. Nick Easley, who led the team with 54 receptions last season but secured just one in the first two games of ’18, hauled in 10 receptions for 103 yards and a score. Preseason all-American Tight end Noah Fant also experienced his finest outing of the campaign with five receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The Hawkeyes rushed for 207 yards on 50 carries. The 4.1 yards per attempt aren’t where Iowa would like it to be but it was an improvement over the 3.74 number posted through the first two weeks.

Iowa put the Panthers on their heals Saturday and gave Wisconsin something about which to think by going no-huddle offense early. It kept UNI from substituting on defense and the Hawkeyes took advantage of mismatches, particularly with Fant.

We’ll find out next week if Iowa’s offensive breakout was real or a function of its latest competition. The Badgers’ 3-4 defense causes a lot of opponents problems.

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How the West was one could point back to next weekend’s game when all is said and done. Northwestern and Purdue, two teams coming off good seasons, look more like pretenders than contenders this year. Nebraska, well, there’s no Frost warning worth worrying about this fall.

The Hawkeyes and their fans have to be feeling good about next week’s matchup after Saturday’s developments. Overconfidence would be unwise.

The Badgers have won five of the last six games in this series and haven’t lost in Iowa City since a 38-16 setback in ’08. During the last three meetings, Iowa’s offense has scored 15 points total.

“Wisconsin has shown a lot of success over the past couple of years. If you want to make it to a Big Ten championship over on this side of the conference, you know you’ve got to beat those guys. It’s a big opportunity for us,” Hawkeye running back Toren Young said.

We’ll see if these Hawkeyes are up for the moment.

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