For the first time in conference play Alex Hornibrook did not throw an interception, a positive sign in his development. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, part of the reason why a game in which Wisconsin dominated was closer than it needed to be.
Even so, there weren’t many egregious errors from Hornibrook on Saturday and his stat line (11-for-19 for 197 yards) was bolstered by two big 50+ yard pass plays. His longest throw to Quintez Cephus was well placed and set up UW’s only second-half touchdown drive.
After not seeing the field since Sept.17, Bart Houston entered on the third series to run a package of plays that were designed for him. Having a handful of zone-read looks, Houston led UW down the field on an 8-play, 58-yard drive that he finished with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Troy Fumagalli.
The play was well designed - get Houston shuffling to his left with the option to run, but he stopped and hit Fumagalli on an inside slant.
Houston also put his shoulder down and got a big eight yards for a first down on a third-and-8 in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Chryst is always telling us that the quarterback has to be ready, no matter what,” Houston said. “It’s not just Alex, it’s not just me, it’s the position. It’s not one of us that will make or break the team, it’s the quarterback position that’s going to help the team succeed.”
There weren’t enough plays to see if there truly was a difference between a Hornibrook offense and a Houston offense, but it will certainly be something to watch moving forward.
A career-high 35 carries yielded big results for Corey Clement, who finished with 134 yards and a 3.8 yards per carry average. Big runs are always hard to come by against Iowa’s front, but Clement’s 34-yard run on third-and-1 was critical, breaking a tackle in the backfield from Iowa's leading tackler Josey Jewell and helping UW chew valuable seconds off the clock.
“I just refused to go down on that play,” Clement said. “I try to do that every play but that was one those plays you have to put the dagger in … That run solidified this game and the guys up front really made that possible.”
Additionally none of Clement's carries resulted in lost yardage and he converted four of his six third-down carries into first downs or touchdowns. His fumble on the goal line was the one black eye on his day.
“I almost felt too down about (the fumble), but when I got a chance to talk to the coaches, I still had another half to go,” Clement said. “Fumbles happen, and I just have to be a veteran, keep my head up, keep fighting with the seniors and knowing we’re coming out here with a purpose.”
After Clement, no tailback got more than two carries. Dare Ogunbowale finished with two carries for 10 yards, but his big addition was to the passing game. He had one drop but his team-high four catches for 41 yards all went for first downs, including three from Hornibrook on third down.
His best play was on a third-and-five when he lined up in the backfield, slipped out past the left tackle after the snap of the ball and cut back to the middle of the field. The area was wide open and he went for a 26-yard gain.
Wisconsin had eight different players catch passes, five of them being receivers. Jazz Peavy had three catches for 26 yards and Fumagalli had two for 38. He had the touchdown catch from Houston, which resulted in him breaking through three tackles and reaching the ball over the goal line, but also a big drop off the finger tips on first-and-10 from the Wisconsin 22 that would have gone for at least 15 yards.
Cephus’ second career catch was a result of him getting a good jump off the line of scrimmage and getting behind the coverage, allowing him to haul in the longest play of the day.
Kyle Penniston’s weak-side inside crossing route was perfectly run and got Wisconsin a big 54-yard gain down to the red zone. It was only Penniston’s fourth catch of the year, another sign that young players have to be ready to contribute.
Eric Steffes only had one catch for five yards, but showed good concentration with a receiver in front of him to control the ball and get a foot in bounds.
A.J. Taylor ran the jet sweep twice, his first carries since the opener, and gained 24 yards, including a long of 23.
“It definitely boosts my confidence a little bit,” Taylor said. “It makes me a lot more comfortable with playing that position and getting that sweep. Now that I got some positive yards from it, I know I can do this.”
Rob Wheelwright didn’t practice until late in the week with a leg injury and wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter by Houston. He finished without a catch.
Wisconsin’s first four offensive series involved five different offensive line combinations, as Michael Deiter and Jon Dietzen played left guard, Brett Connors and Deiter played center, Beau Benzschawel and Micah Kapoi played right guard and Jacob Maxwell and David Edwards played tackle in some form or fashion.
The carousel may seem chaotic but Wisconsin did move the ball to the tune of 5.8 yards per play (423 total yards) and provided decent protection except for consecutive plays to end the third quarter. Dietzen returning to the lineup can be a boost but the redshirt freshman losing his footing on the goal line contributed to Clement getting early contact by the inside linebackers and fumbling.
UW’s biggest concern on the line is improving the right guard and right tackle position, as both Benzschawel and Maxwell – dealing with a right shoulder injury - have struggled. At the end of the third quarter, Jaleel Johnson simply bull rushed Benzschawel for a nine-yard loss on the second down. One play later, Benzschawel appeared to block the wrong player on a stunt, allowing Johnson to come free for another sack.
Dieter’s ability to play both center and left guard seamlessly is a major coup for Wisconsin as it works out its issues.
Not having Olive Sagapolu last week wasn’t a problem for Wisconsin, who moved Conor Sheehy inside and moved Alec James up into the starting lineup opposite Chikwe Obasih. The result was holding Iowa to only 83 yards, impressive considering the Hawkeyes had two backs averaging over 80 yards and rushed for 365 yards last week in a win over Purdue.
Jack Cichy delivered another a second straight double digit tackle performance and delivered nine tackles in the first half. He managed only one in the second half, not bad when we found out he was playing with a dead arm thanks to a torn pectoral suffered with five seconds left in the first half. He gave way to Ryan Connelly, who had one tackle and a pass breakup on Iowa’s final drive.
T.J. Watt finished with five tackles and another 1.5 sacks, giving him seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss on the year. His sack on Iowa’s final drive was a case of him just purely manhandling the right tackle.
Vince Biegel was on a pitch count and split time with Garret Dooley, who turned in another solid performance with 2.5 tackles for loss. His big play came late in the third quarter when he stepped up to the line of scrimmage, put his left shoulder into the fullback and wrapped up Iowa tailback LeShun Daniels for a three-yard loss on third-and-short.
T.J. Edwards had seven tackles, a quarterback hurry, a pass breakup and disrupted the timing on a couple plays by leveling a hit on the tailbacks coming out of the backfield.
Wisconsin had to do some juggling when Derrick Tindal went down at halftime, moving Sojourn Shelton to nickel corner and starting Lubern Figaro and redshirt freshman Titus Booker on the islands. Even with the inexperience on the edges, Iowa only passed 85 yards in the second half. Breaking it down further, the majority of Iowa’s catches and passing yards came from its backs. The Hawkeyes receivers only managed eight catches for 67 yards.
“I was in the nickel a lot, and that’s really not my world,” Shelton said. “I had to make it work. It’s all good. Lubern has stepped up and played really, really well. Book was coming in, kind of got acclimated and you could tell at the end that he started to feel comfortable. Overall I tried to do my job and do it to the best of my ability.”
Figaro pressure off the edge on a first-and-10 at the UW 25 forced an overthrow. The junior had a solid day with four tackles, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.
D'Cota Dixon missed a tackle at the Wisconsin 22 that cost the defense 15 yards and a first down but was solid overall with a position-high six tackles and a quarterback hurry. Leo Musso had four tackles, three solo stops, as he continues to lock down the middle of the field.
Senior kicker Andrew Endicott admitted he had a bad day. His 32-yard kick was poorly struck and was push wide right from the left hash, showing how far off the kick was. He also missed a 52-yard kick wide right from the left hash that he made better contact on. Endicott managed to sneak a 36-yard kick inside the right upright on UW’s final drive that proved big.
“I was thankful that the team got the win and I was able to put one through,” Endicott said.
Freshman Anthony Lotti delivered a beautiful sand wedge on his first kick from the Iowa 35, dropping the punt at the Iowa 2 and back spinning it to the 7. He took over as the full-time punter when P.J. Rosowski’s punt from the Wisconsin 6 went only 28 yards, leading to a Hawkeyes’ field goal. Lotti finished with punts of 37, 35 and 23, putting two more at the 20 or inside of it.
Wisconsin didn’t return any of Iowa’s three kickoffs and Peavy returned only one on Ron Coluzzi’s eight punts, going for 10 yards.
Rosowski had two of his four kickoffs go for touchbacks but miss kicking the final kickoff to Desmond King was a mistake, resulting in a 77-yard return. He also missed a tackle that sprung the play. If Leon Jacobs didn’t chase him down from behind at the 23, things could have got a lot more interesting.
Wisconsin threw Clement in the wildcat on the first series of the game, a modest three-yard gain that adds another wrinkle to the mix. Calling a screen play to fullback Ramesh was a great way to kick start a drive with a 14-yard gain as well. Throw in the fact that the Badgers’ risky decision to use both quarterbacks paid off, it was a well-conceived game plan for head coach Paul Chryst that will give his buddy, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley, some more things to think about.
Although he was without his starting nose tackle and lost a starting inside linebacker and cornerback as the game wore on, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox kept dialing up the pressure and didn’t deviate from the game plan. This group has plenty of grit, not to mention are well prepared and buy into the game plan.