IOWA CITY –
This season, third-and-7 feels like third-and-fat chance. This season, the receivers can’t catch. This season, young opposing quarterbacks have made lifetime memories at Kinnick Stadium.
The bad thing is, you can submerge Iowa’s flaws discreetly into the general responsibility.
Yes, the receivers dropped passes. Oh, did they drop passes. But the quarterback missed on throws. The defensive line allowed a quarterback with 17 career passes to look like the three-year starter he replaced. And Iowa’s secondary made receiver Luke Swan, a kid from a small Wisconsin town known for a plastic 15-foot mouse named “Igor” in front of a cheese store, look like Lynn Swann.
If the Hawkeyes (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) were pointing fingers after Saturday’s 24-21 loss to No. 16 Wisconsin (10-1, 7-1) before 70,585 at Kinnick – and they all say they’re not – Iowa would be a team connected at the finger.
“I’m not big at pointing any individuals out,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Obviously, there were some specific plays out there.”
Let’s go right to those.
On third-and-10 with five minutes left at Iowa’s 47, Iowa quarterback Drew Tate hit tight end Scott Chandler in the hands for what would have been a 12-yard gain and a first down with Iowa trailing 24-21.
“I dropped it, plain and simple,” Chandler said. “I just didn’t watch it in.”
With 2:38 left in the game and still trailing, 24-21, Tate threw slightly behind wide receiver Dominique Douglas for what would have been a first down on a fourth-and-7 play from Iowa’s 35.
Third-and-7 turned into third-and-fat chance.
“How much did my bad throws hurt our team?” asked Tate, who completed just 10 of 31 passes for 170 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
It all hurt.
The lack of a pass rush on Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan hurt. The Badgers’ 97-yard TD drive that began when they stepped off the bus and ended with tailback P.J. Hill’s 1-yard dive with 13:49 in the fourth quarter hurt. Iowa’s six-play, 17-yard third quarter hurt.
It all hurt. The drops just put the Hawkeyes out of their misery.
“You have to perfect every thing you do to come out a winner,” senior free safety Marcus Paschal said. “We haven’t done that this year, and our record speaks for it.”
The Hawkeyes have gone back in time, the bad ol’ times.
Iowa suffered its fourth straight Big Ten loss Saturday, its first such conference losing streak since 1999, when the Hawkeyes finished 0-8 in the Big Ten in Ferentz’s first season. This is Iowa’s first three-game conference losing streak at Kinnick since 1999.
This is Iowa’s first loss to the Badgers since 2001, when first-year UW Coach Bret Bielema still was Iowa’s linebackers coach and recruiter extraordinaire. This is the first time in the three-year history of the Heartland Trophy, the big brass bull that goes to the winner of this series, that it’s gone north on Highway 151 to Madison.
“We talked before the game that this could be the greatest statement of the season for our team,” said Bielema, who exited Kinnick with both arms raised and both index fingers in the air, saluting the good bit of UW fans sticking around. “It was a complete effort – offense, defense and special teams.”
Donovan, who started because senior John Stocco suffered a separated shoulder last week, had a lifetime memory made for him by a dominant offensive line. He completed 17 of 24 for 228 yards and two TDs.
He was sacked once, but time and time again, he had time to pick apart Iowa’s secondary.
“We knew we wanted to run the ball, but we knew we wanted to take our shots,” said Donovan, who symbolically pounded his fist as if the point needed accentuation. “I haven’t been able to compose a whole game since high school. It felt good to get out there.”
The Hawkeyes took a 14-10 lead on Tate’s 3-yard TD pass to fullback Tom Busch with 2:16 left in the second quarter. But the Badgers surged back on Donovan’s 42-yard TD pass to Swan, a Fennimore, Wis., native, a tiny town just across the Mississippi, with 39 seconds left before halftime.
Swan, who caught four passes for 113 yards, made the play with Paschal draped all over him.
“I had my hand on the ball,” Paschal said. “I don’t know how he could’ve caught it. It was just a great play by him, a really great play.”
Wisconsin’s Swans made plays. Iowa’s Chandlers and Douglases didn’t.
The only time you ever hear the word “microcosm” is in times like this, when you’re looking for a tidy way to sum things up, in this case a season of blown expectations and mega frustration.
Swan’s second-quarter TD was one microcosm. Chandler’s drop was another.
Douglas’ drop was yet another.
The second-half time of possession was a pretty telling microcosm, with the Badgers’ holding a gaudy 21:58 to 8:02 advantage.
Iowa set a Big Ten record for microcosms Saturday.
“The big thing I would say is consistency,” Ferentz said. “That’s the story of the two teams right now. I wouldn’t say they’re light years ahead of us right now, but they’ve improved and played fairly consistently all year long.
“We just haven’t done that well enough. When you have a team that’s 6-5, that’s usually what you see.”
The Hawkeyes are 6-5 and that’s no microcosm. That’s the whole story.
The Hawkeyes are 6-5 and they all have a finger in it.