IOWA CITY — Wisconsin’s offense and special teams had a night to forget Saturday as the Badgers fell 24-10 to Iowa and let a golden opportunity in the Big Ten West race slip through their fingers in the process.
WR Keontez Lewis
Lewis provided the lone big play for the Wisconsin offense late in the first half. The sophomore took advantage of a blown coverage from the Hawkeyes on a go route, hauling in a 51-yard touchdown from Graham Mertz. It was just the second play of 50 or more yards Iowa had allowed this season. It was Lewis’ third touchdown of the year. He finished with three catches for 71 yards.
OLB Nick Herbig
The Hawkeyes had no answer for the junior. He had three sacks in the first half to give him 11 on the year, topping his 9.5 from all of last season. One of those sacks resulted in a forced fumble that Wisconsin was able to recover, the lone turnover for the Hawkeyes on the night. Herbig now has 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss against Iowa in his career.
The defensive line
Wisconsin owned the trenches Saturday, playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage throughout. That was especially the case for the defensive line, led by nose tackle Keeanu Benton, and defensive ends James Thompson Jr and Rodas Johnson. That trio combined for 4.5 of Wisconsin’s 11 tackles for loss on the day and helped limit Iowa to just 52 yards rushing on 45 carries.
LBs Maema Njongmeta and Jordan Turner
The inside linebacker duo was also prolific against a very limited Iowa offense. They combined for 18 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Both were flying all over the field to keep the Hawkeyes running game in check.
What Went Wrong
Coming into the game it was pretty clear that whichever team won the turnover battle was going to win the game. That’s exactly what happened as Wisconsin managed to force just one fumble, while the Hawkeyes took the ball away three times. That included Graham Mertz throwing an interception to defensive back Cooper DeJean that he returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Special team miscues
The turnovers would have been enough to sink Wisconsin but the Badgers added a very tough night on special teams to the equation. They had a punt blocked in the second quarter deep in their own territory that Iowa would turn into a touchdown with a 2-play drive. In the third quarter, with the game still 14-10, Dean Engram failed to catch a punt and watched it roll to his own 1-yard line. The poor field position eventually led to a punt deep in Wisconsin’s own territory and the Hawkeyes returned it 41 yards to set up another short touchdown drive.
Even taking away the turnovers, the offense was a mess. They couldn’t run the ball (51 yards on 31 carries), Mertz lacked any kind of accuracy (16-for-35), the offensive line couldn’t protect him (four sacks) and the unit got hit with five penalties. Iowa’s defense is one of the best in the country but Wisconsin helped them out a ton.
In Case You Missed It
— Wisconsin entered the game tied with Iowa and two other teams for second place in the Big Ten West, one game back of Illinois. After the Illini lost to Purdue earlier in the day, the Badgers had a very good chance to secure the division and reach the conference title game if it could win the final three games. That chance, just like the missed opportunity to claim the division last season at Minnesota, slipped through their fingers.
— Braelon Allen managed just 40 yards on 17 carries on Saturday. But all the questions after the game were about the rumor that he was looking to transfer after the season, potentially to Michigan. Allen refuted that in a radio appearance on Friday and once again said after the game Saturday that he’s committed to Wisconsin as long as Jim Leonhard gets the full-time job as coach.
Braelon Allen said he did address the Michigan rumor with his teammates this week. Told them there wasn’t any truth to it. pic.twitter.com/X8lihLnWuD
— Leonhard was also asked about the Allen situation.
“Unfortunately, we have to recruit our own team every day right now. I would never accuse any teams of tampering with your players. But teams are tampering with other people’s players and it’s unfortunate to see where it’s at.
“But I have to continue to show a clear vision. I’ve mentioned it a number of times. The uncertainty is going to cause people to look and see what the best decisions for their future are. We have to be real about that as coaches. And that’s why we have these conversations almost daily with our team about where we’re going, what the plan is, and how we’re going to get there. That’s all we can do at this point.
“Like I said, it’s unfortunate that a kid has to address that with the media when it’s not supposed to be real, but obviously it is.”
— Mertz did not speak with reporters after the game due to receiving treatment for an undisclosed injury.
Inside the Numbers
146 – That is how many yards Iowa had on offense. It’s the fewest in a game the Hawkeyes have won since at least 1989.
12 – That is how many sacks Wisconsin has against Iowa the last two seasons.
1 — That’s how many rivalry trophies the Badgers currently have in their locker room after losing the Heartland Trophy. The only one in there right now is the Freedom Trophy, which they’ll put on the line against Nebraska next week.
1 – That’s how many games Wisconsin needs to win in its final two (at Nebraska, vs Minnesota) to make a bowl game.
Wisconsin (5-5, 3-4) will travel to Nebraska (3-7, 2-5) to face the Cornhuskers next Saturday.