Game Day Grades: Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Despite plenty of injuries before and during the game, No.22 Wisconsin relied on its stifling defense in the first three quarters and its running game in the fourth quarter to get a key road win at Iowa. Badger Nation hands out the grades.

Quarterbacks

There doesn't seem to be a more polarizing figure on Wisconsin's football team than sophomore quarterback Joel Stave, especially when things aren't going as planned.

In adverse weather conditions and against a stingy defense, Stave was not finding his rhythm. Throws were not on target, or sometimes not in the same area code, and the pressure from the Iowa defense was causing the Wisconsin offense to go three-and-out on its first four drives.

Stave also threw an interception for the sixth time in nine games this season, while pressure from linebacker Christian Kirksey played a large factor, coming free and hitting Stave as he threw.

Needless to say, the Twitterverse was active with people not happy with the quarterback play.

"We just try to call plays based off the field situation that we were in (and) take advantage of the opportunities we get," said Stave. "That's a good defense. They did a good job stopping the run and a good job playing the pass."

And while Stave's numbers weren't amazing (11-for-19 for 144 yards), the plays he did make were critical for Wisconsin. Finally getting some momentum going on its fifth drive with the wind at their back, driving to the Iowa 44 and facing a third-and-seven, Stave threw a near perfect pass over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown to Jacob Pedersen in double coverage. That play gave UW a 7-6 lead at halftime.

Stave delivered another solid throw over the middle following a Wisconsin interception, hitting Jared Abbrederis for a 20-yard touchdown that was the game winner.

"They were much needed," said left guard Ryan Groy. "Joel took some serious shots today, stayed in there and kept throwing. It was awesome."

Grade: B-

Running Backs

Melvin Gordon certainly has been the focal point throughout the season, running for over 140 yards in six of seven games entering last weekend. Maybe that was one of the main reasons why the offensive players who talked after the game were so thrilled for James White and his 132-yard, two-touchdown performance.

"It's well deserved, especially for James because his last Iowa game was unfortunate," said Groy. "Huge game for him and I think we finally started running the ball in the second half, which needed to happen."

Wisconsin's running game was going nowhere through three quarters, as the Badgers only had 100 yards on 27 carries. On 18 carries in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin registered 118 yards and two touchdowns against a stingy Iowa defense that had only allowed two rushing touchdowns all year (both against Ohio State).

Gordon grinded all game, finishing with a season-low 62 yards on 17 carries.

"Coach told me yards not going to come with every game," said Gordon. "Second half, I got really hot. It just works out like that. James was hotter and he got the ball today and definitely proved what he could do."

"They both played like crazy," added Gary Andersen.

Fullback Derek Watt, as usual, played outstanding without getting noticed.

Grade: B

Receivers

Not a lot of pass catching opportunities for Wisconsin's receivers on a day where only 11 catches were made, but the work that Abbrederis and Pedersen did on their touchdown catches were huge. Pedersen made a strong catch in traffic and survived contact to jog into the end zone while Abbrederis held on to the ball for a touchdown despite a hard hit that knocked him from the game.

Pedersen and Abbrederis each led the team with three catches and had 73 and 30 yards, respectively. White (2 catches for 19 yards), Kenzel Doe (2, 17) and Jeff Duckworth (1, 5) rounded out the production. As usual, the Badgers downfield blocking was generally solid.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Struggling with Iowa's front seven, Wisconsin's offensive line did not account for Kirksey on a quarterback hurry that led to an interception or linebacker James Morris coming untouched after he crossed the face of Kyle Costigan and Dallas Lewallen for a sack on third down.

"I didn't think we expected them to bring what they brought," said Groy. "They played well in the beginning, and I think we definitely had to soften them up throughout the game."

Despite the offense having scored only seven points in the first half, the offensive line made no changes during halftime.

"We knew we had the plays," said Groy. "We just weren't executing."

Containing the pressure was better after halftime (Stave didn't get hit as often and UW didn't allow a sack after halftime), but the running game didn't really take off until the fourth quarter.

Needing to run the ball with four minutes left to milk time off the clock, Groy teamed with Pedersen and Watt to clean a large running gap on the right side of the field, allowing White to scamper 59 yards for the touchdown to effectively clinch the game.

"We needed to run the ball to have success," said Groy. "That big run gave us some momentum and really got us in a great position."

Wisconsin averaged 4.9 yards per play in the first half. The offensive line helped boost that to 6.6 yards in the second half.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Iowa's offensive line doesn't give up many sacks, only six on the year, so the fact that the Badgers only registered one sack – a combo from Brendan Kelly and Warren Herring – isn't all that surprising. However, the fact that the Badgers' defense registered seven quarterback hurries and eight tackles for loss was a reason the Badgers were able to stay in the game until the offense found its footing.

"That's an offensive line that hadn't given up many sacks all year," said senior Ethan Hemer. "Watching film, it was difficult to find pressures on the quarterback. So for us, this is a big statement for our defensive line that we can rush the passer against a good offensive line. We can get pressure when needed."

Hemer and Herring led the defensive line with three tackles and one tackle for loss while Beau Allen also had three tackles and a half tackle for loss. Not to be overlooked, many players and Andersen said Pat Muldoon has one of the best games of the season with his one tackle, fourth-quarter interception and playing more reps than he is use to with senior Tyler Dippel unavailable.

Two weeks after Illinois scored 24 points on its red-zone trips, the Badgers allowed only nine points on Iowa's four trips, as Hemer said the group was more disciplined and focused on the team concepts inside their own 20.

"Because of that we were able to be stout," said Hemer. "We were assignment sound. There wasn't breakdowns in the back end. I think that made a big difference."

Grade: A-

Linebackers

Without Chris Borland for the second straight game, Marcus Trotter again led the team with tackles, finishing with nine. He's not the fastest player on the field, but Trotter tied Kelly for a game-high 1.5 tackles for loss and had a quarterback hurry, which led to Muldoon's interception.

"Marcus did a great job," said Andersen. "It's Marcus' moment. It's a credit to him for the way he prepared. He's obviously lived in the moment. He's had himself prepared all the way. That doesn't just happen in a week or in 10 days with a bye week. It takes time to get into position and play the way he plays. It matters to him a lot."

Ethan Armstrong also picked up the slack with Borland out with seven tackles (six solo), including pressuring Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock to force an interception in the third quarter.

Wisconsin turned both of those interceptions into touchdowns.

"The momentum that comes from those is huge," said Kelly, who added six sacks. "You saw the offense respond right there, put it in the end zone. It really was a good thing for the whole team."

Michael Caputo had six tackles and Derek Landisch had four tackles, as Iowa averaged only 4.1 yards per play.

"That's an offense that's given some people fits, and they didn't get in the end zone," said Borland. "Incredible performance and really proud of our guys."

Grade: A

Secondary

Darius Hillary was whistled for his fourth pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter, highest on the team, but his interception in the third quarter was a game changer after he took a decent hit. Sojourn Shelton got beat a few times that could have resulted in big plays, but Wisconsin's pressure up front was able to bail him out.

Not allowing a passing touchdown and only 179 yards is another impressive achievement for a young group.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

Whether returning of kicking, the punt units had a tough day in Iowa City.

Doe's play as a punt return continues to be disconcerting, as he almost caused a pair of turnovers to give Iowa prime field position. In the second quarter, Doe didn't do a good enough job calling off his blockers, as senior Dezmen Southward almost clipped it with his foot. In the third quarter, Doe had a punt go off his chest that Southward was able to recover.

"It was a little bit worrisome without question, we all know that, and it's something we'll continue to work on," said Andersen. "We haven't had that issue."

Andersen said Doe will continue to return punts the whole team collectively need better production.

Sophomore Drew Meyer averaged only 33.9 yards on eight punts, as the wind plagued the Badgers in the first and third quarter. Meyer's first three punts went 23, 27 and 19 yards.

"Two of them I thought he hit well off his foot and they just got slapped right out of the air and fell straight down," said Andersen. "I don't know what to tell a kid on that."

Wisconsin even tried to beat the wind with a rugby kick, but even that wasn't as effective as it needed to be. While Meyer's punting average was porous because of the wind, he crushed one punt into the wind that was downed at the Iowa 1-yard line. It turned out to be a huge momentum swing in the game when pressure from Armstrong resulted in Hillary's interception.

After originally making a 54-yard field goal, Jack Russell missed the attempt after three straight timeouts by the Hawkeyes. He is 0-for-4 in his career, but showing he can make that kick was somewhat comforting.

Grade: C


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