1) If you need an airbag for the deal with the inconsistency, it's OK, the Hawkeyes aren't running in the straightest line right now.
2) But hey, they're 5-3 with a bowl trip within reach. The biggest question during the last quarter of the season is can the Hawkeyes improve? That's something the best Kirk Ferentz teams have done. It hasn't been there since 2009, really. This team is young and it could go either way.
3) The wrinkle this week came on defense with the "raider" formation. The idea was to get a little more speed on the field. Iowa rushed three in Louis Trinca-Pasat, Nate Meier and Reggie Spearman. Linebacker Quinton Alston came in for coverage. It was a passing situation package and it did provide a little oomph in pass rush. (Spearman really has a knack.) For it to work, though, the coverage has to hold up. Alston got clipped for a completion in front of him for a third-down conversion. Still, you have to like the creativity from DC Phil Parker. He's pulling a lot of strings to find a pass rush.
4) Health watch: It looked like QB Jake Rudock came out of that slide in the second quarter with a knee issue rather than a concussion. Looked as though he had a sleeve on in the second half. He brushed it all off in the post game and said all good. (Aside: The TD pass to CJF was ridiculously great. Showed a lot of everything a QB has to show. Best play of his young career. In the postgame interview with BTN, Kirk Ferentz called it "a helluva" play. He's right.)
5) I really think the decreased workload for RB Mark Weisman is part offense and part defense. In the second halves of the last three games, Iowa has been stretched by the opponent's offense. Iowa's time of possession in the second half of the last three games is 10:38, 6:55 and 13:05. That's just more than 30 minutes, which is about a third of total time of possession available collectively in those three games. So, in summary, Iowa has lost the TOP battle by nearly a 70-30 margin in the second half the last three weeks. Think of it that way, a 1-2 record is something you might understand a little better. Iowa isn't healthy doing business like this, obviously. It's better when Weisman and the OL physically grind and go to work on a cumulative effect, that whole "stronger in the fourth quarter" thing. But this isn't all offense. The defense has to get off the field.
1) NU QB Kain Colter – Was this the same sort of ceremonial cleanse for Iowa as the 2001 victory over Indiana and Antwaan Randle El was? Randle El beat Iowa, mostly singlehandedly, three straight seasons before Iowa outlasted the dynamic option QB at Kinnick Stadium in 2001. It was a victory that put the Hawkeyes in the Alamo Bowl and set the stage for a dominant 2002. OK, this is overstatement. Colter didn't dominate Iowa, except for his career-high 166 yards and three TDs in 2012. Yesterday was actually the rubber game. Colter didn't want to lose this. When DT Louis Trinca-Pasat tackled him on fourth-and-8 in OT, Colter had blood on his pants. He slumped on the turf. After 164 yards of total offense in a game where every yard mattered, Colter was drained. Great athlete, will be an interesting player in the NFL.
2) Iowa LB James Morris — The counterpart to Colter. Morris had eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, two sacks (spying Colter, first time I've noticed Iowa spying a QB since . . . maybe Randle El with Bob Sanders) and a fumble recovery. Morris took the 28-17 loss to NU seriously. If nothing else, Morris is the spokesman for accountability. Just as much as Colter, he poured out the bucket yesterday at Kinnick. Iowa had five first-year starters in the game. Morris had a lot to do with keeping the newbies focused.
3) Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz — Let's give the big fella his due. He caught two passes for 26 yards. He's had days with bigger numbers, but he has never had a bigger catch for the Hawkeyes, plucking an 8-yard pass out of the air for the winning points in OT. Now, a huge amount of credit for the play goes to QB Jake Rudock, who hung in until the very last minute against a blitz with safety Ibraheim Campbell closing fast. Rudock hung the ball in the air long enough for CJF to get under it, and he was wide open on the hitch route in man coverage (cover zero, no safety help). It was a smash combo, with KMM cutting inside and CJF taking the outside route and beating safety Traveon Henry. Rudock's throw beat Henry. It was perfect. Fiedorowicz called it the biggest TD catch of his career. He's right.
1) Getting off the field — The one stat that looked incredibly shiny coming out of the non-conference was opponent's third down conversions. Iowa was a top 15 team in the nation before Big Ten play started. In conference, the Hawkeyes are ninth with 46.7 percent (28 of 60) of third downs converted against them. If there's a week this stat needs polishing, it's Wisconsin week. The Badgers come into Kinnick 18th in the country in time of possession (32:55). We've been over TOP. That will start with the defense getting stops.
2) Running game fades again again — The inability of Iowa's offense to sustain the running game plays in to the TOP and the defense getting off the field. What one unit does, affects the other. Nothing happens neatly in a vacuum. In their last three games, the Hawkeyes have rushed 25 times for 57 yards in the second half. That’s taken them out of their comfort zone and has caused a second-half malaise where Iowa has been outscored 53-10. Wisconsin should have all systems go this week, meaning crazy speedy and acrobatic WR Jared Abbrederis will be healthy and in the lineup. Couple Abbrederis' skills with the conference's No. 2 rush offense, it would held Iowa's defense if Iowa's offense were able to keep the Badgers in dry dock.
3) Up the gut — If it feels as though the Cats did a ton of business between the tackles against Iowa, it's because they did. There was a ton of talk this week about the edge of Iowa's defense and the new players there. Against NU, it was true sophomore Drew Ott and junior Mike Hardy, making his first career start in place of injured Dominic Alvis. Iowa didn't rotate beyond those two, except for the Raider formation. So, what did NU do? It ran up the middle 20 times for 133 yards. During the drive that produced the tying field goal, NU called a middle run five straight plays, going for 7, 4, 5, 10 and 3. Wisconsin probably scouted that and might've started drooling.
1) First down in OT — Iowa is starting to gain yardage with young players, not all but a few. WR Tevaun Smith is becoming consistent and dependable. He's also doing it against big-time competition. In the last three weeks, Smith has 11 catches for 109 yards. Against NU, he finished with three catches for 41 yards. The biggest came on the first play of OT. College overtimes start with first down at the 25. NU won the toss and took defense, which is industry standard. When it's your turn, you want to know what the opposing offense has already done. To this point, Iowa had just two plays in the second half that went for 20-plus yards. It wasn't able to reach explosive mode. So, on first down, Rudock faked a zone read to Weisman and zipped a short pass to Smith, who saw the NU CB line up 8 yards off him. Great read on the stop route and great burst for 14 yards to the 11. The play pushed Iowa ahead of schedule on offense for one of the few times in the second half. Set the tone in a strong way.
2) Game-winner — I wrote extensively about this yesterday, but if Iowa wants to reach a bowl and beyond, it's going to need to make plays like the one DT Louis Trinca-Pasat made on fourth down in OT to close out the Cats. He ran a perfect twist with DT Carl Davis and had a clear run at Colter. He whiffed and landed flat on his gut. He popped up, took a perfect angle to the sideline and cleaned up Colter near the Iowa sideline for a sack. In three of the four games Iowa has left, it will run into a few athletes who'll fake them flat to the ground. The trick, especially for the Hawkeyes at this stage, is doing a Trinca-Pasat, getting up and getting back in the play.
– The Badgers had their feet up last week. They were off.
-- Kick off is 11 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium. TV is TBD. The teams haven't met since 2010. There was a fake punt. You might remember it.
– UW linebacker Chris Borland, perhaps the most unique football animal in captivity, suffered a hamstring strain in the Badgers' last outing vs. Illinois. He's had a week and has said all along he expects to play against Iowa. Before the Illinois game, UW announced that Borland was going to be its long FG kicker. There's video somewhere of Borland, an Ohio native, calling his shot on something like a 40-yard pass off the crossbar.
– Badgers RB Melvin Gordon said this week it was tough for him to de-commit from Iowa. It turned out OK. The Wisconsin native leads the Big Ten with 144.57 rushing yards a game and 11 rush TDs. He's a jet sweep nightmare. (Remember the stuff about him seeing a scuffle in the Iowa locker room after his 2010 visit to Kinnick? That happened to be the Iowa-UW game, BTW. The fracas or melee was never confirmed.)
– The Badgers are blessed with the DT tandem of Beau Allen and Warren Herring. Big and biggerer.
Iowa — 2 of 3 (NIU: 2-for-3; MSU: 4 of 6; ISU 2 of 5; WMU 2 of 5; Minn 1 of 4; Mich St 1 of 2; OSU 2 of 3)
NU — 1 of 2 (NIU: 0-for-2; MSU: 0-for-1; ISU 1 of 1; WMU 0 of 2; Minn 0 of 0; Mich St 0 of 3; OSU 3 of 5)
Time to throw Iowa DE Drew Ott some love for the OT stand. NU needed just 5 yards to get into the red zone. On first down, DE Drew Ott sacked Colter. On second down, Ott stopped Colter for a 3-yard gain. Incomplete on third down. On fourth-and-8, Ott held his edge and allowed LTP to finish the play. NU never did find the red zone, going four plays for 1 yard.
Iowa 2 — Coming off a week with zero three-and-outs, Iowa started the game with one and finished the Cats with a four-and-out in OT. (NIU 6, MSU 6, ISU 5, WMU 9, Minn 3; Mich St 4; OSU 0)
NU 1 — Just the one in the second quarter. There was a four-and-out, but it wasn't a fourth down stop. Felt like there should've been more, right? (NIU: 3, MSU: 3, ISU 4, WMU 3, Minn 1; Mich St 9; OSU 0)
Iowa — 150-4.8 (31 plays) (NIU: 156-4.7, 33 plays; MSU: 285-6.47, 44 plays; ISU: 192-4.92, 39 plays; WMU 287-6.37, 45 plays, Minn 235-6.02, 39 plays; Mich St 104-2.97, 35 plays; OSU 153-8.5, 18 plays)
NU — 208-5.47 (38 plays) (NIU: 234-4.77, 49 plays; MSU: 130-5.2, 25 plays; ISU: 258-7.58, 34 plays; WMU: 89-4.68, 19 plays; Minn: 85-3.54, 19 plays; 210-4.8, 39 plays; OSU 306-5.77, 53 plays)
Time of possession in the second half remains a problem. Lived through it, though. Passing game has to be able to counter when the running game is stopped. It's probably just that simple. Goes to the defense, too. That was a lot of production in the second half. Colter will do that, though. Credit the D for hanging tough.
Iowa 2 — Both came on passes in the second half, 21 yards to KMM and 20 to TE Jake Duzey, who did made more out of it, cutting against the grain and taking the ball to the opposite sideline after making a short catch. Never play led to a score. (NIU: 3, MSU: 4; ISU 3; WMU 4; Minn 4; Mich St 2; OSU 3)
NU 2 — NU TE Dan Vitale is a nice player. He had a 31-yard reception. NU also ran two end arounds for him. Coaches clearly wanted him to get the ball and found a couple of ways to feed him. Stephen Buckley led all rushers with 99 yards. I'm not sure what the injury is with Venric Mark, but Buckley is in that mold and will be a player for NU. (NIU: 5. MSU: 4; ISU 4; WMU 1; Minn 2; Mich St 5; OSU 2)
Iowa o — No, OT doesn't count. Should it? No, it shouldn't. (vs NIU: 7, vs MSU: 0; vs ISU 6; vs. WMU 14; vs. Minn 0; Mich St 7; OSU 0)
NU 0 — The most clutch play made all day was Rudock's pass to CJF to win it. (NIU: 3, vs MSU: 0; ISU 0, vs. WMU 0; Minn 0; Mich St 0; OSU 0)
5 — Remember, the goal here is nine. Iowa is stuck on about 4.75. Tevaun Smith claimed two this week, a 16-yard reception and the 14-yarder in OT that was more him running with the ball than anything else. Duzey is here again. Fiedorowicz had an 18-yarder. KMM had the 21-yarder. (vs NIU: 5; vs MSU: 6; vs ISU 7; vs WMU 10; Minn 8; Mich St 2; OSU 4)