IOWA CITY — Iowa’s special teams remain a sinkhole.
No other way around it. The Hawkeyes had a blocked PAT, several penalties and got caught in a punt return that ended up with Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman rushing right up the middle for 17 yards and a first down.
The body count for Iowa’s special teams is two. The blocked punt and kick return for a touchdown cost the Hawkeyes dearly at Arizona. Saturday, the blocked PAT and a high snap on a 31-yard field goal attempt kept four points off the board.
Iowa lost to No. 10 Wisconsin, 31-30. Those points mattered.
Everything else worked pretty well for the Hawkeyes. Sure, the defense buckled at crucial moments, but it also fought against bobbles that gave away field position.
Special teams chopped down just about everything Iowa did well Saturday.
“It works when if your special teams is solid,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If you look at both those games [Arizona and Wisconsin], right now the first thing I’d point to is our special teams. We’re going to have to find a way to play a little bit better.”
The headaches started early. UW defensive end J.J. Watt blocked Mike Meyer’s PAT attempt after Iowa’s first TD, leaving Iowa up, 6-3. It was a point Iowa chased all day and never seemed to get back.
“Lining up I saw a crack. I knew it was going to be there,” Watt said. “So, I swam over the guard, (defensive tackle) Pat Butrym did a great job of occupying the guard and I swam over the guard and literally just walked into it. I put my hands up and walked into it.”
It really seemed that easy for UW against Iowa’s special teams, which employ nine true freshmen in different units.
With 3:13 left in the second quarter, Iowa lined up for a 31-yard field goal. Long snapper Andrew Schulze left a one a little high to holder Ryan Donahue, who was tackled for a 4-yard loss.
That’s four potential points off the board.
“It’s frustrating but you can’t get frustrated,” senior punt returner Colin Sandeman said. “It’s tough to swallow when you lose like that and special teams is a part of it.
“Those guys are trying as hard as they can. I think Wisconsin had a couple more answers than we did.”
Late in the third quarter, Iowa’s kick team came up with a stop that held UW at its 18. But no, true freshman Don Shumpert was called offsides. UW made Iowa kick it again and David Gilreatch took it to UW’s 49. The Badgers scored just four plays later.
The coup de grace was Nortman’s fake punt. It turned a fourth-and-4 into a first-and-10 at the 43. It eventually delivered the game-winner.
“I had a feeling something was up,” Sandeman said. “They’re down by 6, there are four minutes left. If they punt and we string together a couple first downs, the game is over. I had a feeling something was going to happen.”
Ferentz said it came down to execution. Wisconsin did; Iowa didn’t.
“They executed [the fake punt]. Nice job, good call, excellent patience by their punter,” Ferentz said.
There’s simply no more patience for Iowa’s special teams.