IOWA CITY — There are no little things in football, not if you want to beat good teams.
You block out defenders on extra-point kicks. You don’t commit penalties on kickoff coverage. You innately know when to spike a football to save time and timeouts in a 2-minute drill.
Iowa lost by one point to Wisconsin Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, 31-30. The Badgers were as disciplined as they were determined, as smart as they were tough.
Which means all those not-so-little things that Iowa didn’t do or did wrong added up to a 1-point difference, and more.
This was a sizzling slobberknocker of a game between two really good teams. Both sides had all sorts of performances and possessions that were captivating. A non-partisan football fan couldn’t have turned away from this battle.
But would you Iowa partisans have believed it Saturday morning were it suggested the Hawkeyes would get outcoached?
Iowa earned a first-down at the Wisconsin 39-yard line Saturday with 12 seconds and one timeout remaining. The Hawkeyes could have hustled to the line of scrimmage, had quarterback Ricky Stanzi spike the ball, and attempted to use the remaining 8 or 9 seconds to try to pick up 8 or 9 yards (or more), use that timeout, and have a fighting chance at a game-winning field goal.
Or, they could have just called that timeout and run a play they hoped would gain several yards before ending out-of-bounds to stop the clock before it expired.
The correct answer was to spike it. In fact, it was the automatic answer. It’s called clock-management, Hawkeyes. Learn to embrace it.
The reason the NCAA instituted the spiked-pass rule the NFL already had in place is because it is offense-friendly for late drives. Fans like offense. Fans like drama.
Stanzi lined up in the shotgun formation. He seemed to indicate he wanted to move up and spike the ball, but things got real chaotic real fast, and Iowa spent that last timeout.
What did it produce? A mess. Stanzi flipped a pass to Adam Robinson, he was tackled in-bounds after gaining four useless yards, and the clock elapsed with the Badgers in front for keeps.
“I don’t think that was necessarily the turning point of the game,” Ferentz said.
Of course it wasn’t. The odds of Iowa putting everything together to make a field goal of 45 yards or longer after a spiked pass would have been slim. But they got even slimmer with the timeout instead of the spike.
Such ifs and buts make crushing losses weigh even heavier on the heart. You want to feel like you at least took the best last shot available.
“Both plans can be positive and negative,” Stanzi said of spike/don’t-spike. “It’s really hard to say one thing was bad and one thing wasn’t. You’ve just got to live with what happened.”
What’s harder to live with is the special teams play that is the difference between Iowa being 7-0 rather than 5-2.
Really? You got an extra-point kick blocked Saturday after having one blocked in a big moment at Arizona last month? Really?
A high snap that fouled up a 31-yard field goal try? Penalties on kickoff coverage that totally changed field-position?
“To me, the story of the game was special teams play,” Ferentz said.
Special teams are one-third of a football squad. When they let you down as throughly as they did in Game 7, you’ve established you aren’t a complete team.
On the other sideline, Bret Bielema and his Wisconsin staff coached a wonderful game. Their fake punt for 17 yards on 4th-and-4 from the UW 26 extended the final Badgers drive. Eleven plays later, the Badgers took the lead.
Judging by the Hawkeyes’ reactions, they didn’t think a fake punt with about six minutes left in the game was even a remote possibility. Why?
It wasn’t the Iowa defense’s day. You don’t give up 31 points and scoring drives of 70, 59, 80, 51 and 80 yards to anyone, anywhere and claim to have one of the best defenses in America. Especially when Wisconsin relied on back-ups at wide receiver and tight end to replace some major talents, and got so much good out of their No. 3 running back, Montee Ball.
To the Badgers go the spoils, and deservedly so. They showed the same second-half fortitude here that the Hawkeyes displayed a year ago in Madison. Wisconsin looks to be BCS bowl-bound.
The Big Ten did Iowa, Wisconsin and itself wrong when it placed these two schools in separate football divisions for the unforeseeable future. This rivalry is too good to interrupt.
So, Wisconsin can savor this win until the two meet again, in 2013. The bronzed bull trophy left Iowa City Saturday night. So did a lot more than that.