Turnovers, penalties, and another Big Ten road loss
The cliches are as old as the game:
The team that wins the turnover battle wins the game.
Good teams have talented starters. Great teams have talented starters and good depth.
Mistakes are hard to overcome at home. Mistakes are almost impossible to overcome on the road.
It seems to be different formula every week. Against Purdue, the defense was outstanding, but the offense and punt unit performed poorly in the 23-14 loss. The running game was much better the next week against Michigan State, but a Spartan kickoff return for a TD combined with four Iowa interceptions was the downfall in the 31-28 loss. The offense dominated Indiana the next week in order to overcome the struggles of the defense against Randle El as the Hawks won 42-28. Against Michigan, the lack of a running attack combined with ten penalties proved to be the difference in a 32-26 loss.
What about the Wisconsin game? Ladell Betts and the running game looked much better in the 2nd and 3rd quarters as Betts ran for 121 yards on 15 carries for the game. However, the pass defense and eleven costly penalties sealed the Hawks fate in a 34-28 loss.
Averaging around ten penalties has become almost a weekly occurrence. The only game that Iowa has shown discipline in during recent weeks was against Indiana when they only had one penalty and one turnover. Besides having the eleven infractions on Saturday, the Hawks also had three key turnovers.
The Hawks started very slowly on both offense and defense. The offense went three plays and out in both of their first two series, while star Badger WR Lee Evans burned the Iowa Defense deep as he reeled in catches that moved the ball and forced Iowa to make changes. The Badgers were not able to run the ball early in the game, but Evans and the Badgers made enough plays in the passing game to continue drives and open up RB Anthony Davis and the Badger running game.
Brad Banks got Iowa back into the game by throwing two TD passes in the 2nd quarter to put Iowa ahead, 14-13 with 7:56 left before the half. The first was an 11-yard pass to Kahlil Hill that was set up by the running of Banks and Betts. The second was an enjoyable 54-yard strike that was wide open after Banks used a pump fake to get Badger CB Mike Echols out of position before throwing to Hill in stride.
Wisconsin responded by scoring to take a 20-14 lead, but then one of the three key turnovers took place. The Iowa OL opened up a huge hole for Betts with 4:20 left in the 2nd quarter, but Betts was stripped and lost the ball to Badger DT Wendell Bryant at the Iowa 22. QB Brooks Bollinger and the Badger Offense took advantage immediately as he lofted a 17-yard TD pass to make it 27-14.
After starting the game and sitting most of the first half, Kyle McCann was reinserted for a two-minute drill. He responded in a very sharp fashion as he led the offense down the field with crisp passing. However, in an attempt to run for a TD, McCann fumbled the ball to Wisconsin at the Badger 5-yard line.
Besides the penalties that occurred throughout the game, Iowa could not overcome those two turnovers as one led to seven Badger points, while the other kept the Hawks from scoring seven themselves.
The officials were interesting as usual as they missed an obvious Badger pass interference call against Jeremy Allen that would have led to an automatic first down and a good chance at scoring. In the same part of the field later in the game, the refs called pass interference against the Iowa Defense on a ball that was nowhere close to being catchable. But, in the end it was Iowa's mistakes, not the officials, which were the main difference between winning and losing.
After running the ball well and scoring points in the 3rd quarter, Iowa more or less stopped running in the 4th. The OL was starting to block well in the 3rd as C Bruce Nelson destroyed Badgers defenders with key blocks that paved the way for big gains by Ladell Betts. Why the Hawks went away from the ground game when they were only trailing 34-28 seemed very strange.
For UW, Evans ended up with 7 catches for 175 yards, while his Badger cohort Davis ran 36 times for 132 yards. The Iowa Defense did a better job of bending but not breaking in the 2nd half, but their performance for the day was less than average. Not only was the defense playing without Matt Stockdale and Jerry Montgomery, but Derrick Pickens and Bob Sanders were on the sidelines when the game ended. Any team would have serious problems when their top players are hurt, but Iowa's situation is even tougher because the depth at certain positions is still not what it was in 1996.
Besides not having the four defensive starters, the offense is without Alonzo Cunningham, Dallas Clark, and key reserves on the line. If Iowa is going to turn it around and win two, or all, of their games down the stretch, some of these players need to get healthy. In addition, reserves and other starters need to take a big step forward.
All of the Iowa wins this season have been over teams that they were supposed to beat. All of the Iowa losses this season have come against teams favored to beat Iowa going into the season either because of their talent or because the game was on the road. Iowa is 2-17 on the road in Big Ten play since 1997, and although the losses have been very close this season, they are 0-3 on the road this season.
Iowa hasn't defeated a team that was perceived to be better than them since beating #12-ranked Northwestern at the end of the 2000 season. The Hawks beat two rated teams last season, but haven't found the formula to reproduce that magic this year. Iowa has found themselves playing almost evenly against every Big Ten team so far this year, but most weeks Iowa is the team that makes more mistakes than their foe. The Hawks have not made plays down the stretch in most games this year, and Saturday was no exception as the Hawk Offense had the whole 4th quarter to overcome a six-point deficit.
Good teams make plays when they need them. Talented teams that fail to make plays when it counts find themselves talking about what if and looking at a mediocre season. Northwestern is reeling faster and farther than the Hawks right now, but next week's opponent will beat Iowa unless the Hawks get healthy both mentally and physically. No opponent, no matter how much they are struggling, is going to give a win to the UI at this stage of the season. Iowa needs to make plays when they count, not crucial mistakes that lead to another loss and another series of what ifs and what could have been conversations.