In another close one, Badgers win fourth
MADISON, Wisc. -- Leave it to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz to sum up tonight's road loss to the Badgers. Said Ferentz, "We're not an offensive juggernaut. When we get field position, we need to get points." Such was the problem for Ferentz's Hawkeyes all evening, as they let opportunities slip through their fingers. When the fourth quarter arrived, and with their defense exhausted from the long night's work, the opportunities had dried up. Wisconsin took the Big Ten opener for both teams, 17-13.
How important was this win for Wisconsin's 2007 goals?
"I think starting off with a loss would have been very hard," said wide receiver Luke Swan. "Iowa came out to play and did a great job today and we were fortunate to get the win."
Bret Bielema had criticized the media for making too much of the team's poor defensive play in the first three weeks of the season. But the unit performed very well in this game, outside of allowing a late first half touchdown drive. Iowa gained just 59 yards on the ground.
Said Ferentz, "There's been banter talk up here about the defense. I think they answered that tonight."
After a slow start for both teams, Iowa and Wisconsin turned out 17 points in the final 2:28 of the first half. Then, after a scoreless third, Wisconsin came alive, first on a long drive led by P.J. Hill, then in the closing minutes with a game-capping field goal. The Badgers may not pick up any votes in the polls, but they won an important game to keep pace with Ohio State in the Big Ten race.
A week after a bitter loss to Iowa State the Hawkeyes suffered several injuries, and Ferentz had little positive to offer at his press conference.
"We didn't come up here to play close," said Ferentz. "That wasn't our goal."
The injuries forced the team to go to several freshman players at key offensive positions. One of them, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, caught the 21-yard score before the half. "Here's a guy who forgot to tie his shoes on Friday at practice," said Ferentz, "but he made some great plays, competed hard."
As for the injuries, said Ferentz, "We're going to be sore, it was a physical football game."
This game all came down to the battle upfront, where Wisconsin's offensive and defensive lines hung in longer, and played harder, than Iowa's beef.
Said Iowa QB Jake Christensen, "We made them earn it, and they did."
Play of the game: With a 14-13 lead, and little more than five minutes on the game clock, Badger quarterback Tyler Donovan scrambled in his backfield before heading upfield for a crucial first down. The play extended the Badgers drive, and helped them chip away at the clock (as did the Lance Smith run that followed). By drive's end Wisconsin had extended its lead to 17-13, and had left Iowa with less than two minutes to work with.
Player of the game: P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin
The Hawkeyes had given up just 2.1 yards per carry entering this game. Hill gained 113 on 29 carries (3.9) and scored the go-ahead touchdown for Wisconsin at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Hill has helped pace the Badgers in the month of September, and tonight he was the driving force behind the team's second-half surge. Said Bielema, "P.J. has prided himself on re-defining his body and being able to play longer fourth-quarter games."
We almost gave the award to: Ken DeBauche, P, Wisconsin
Yes, the punter! No kidding. DeBauche helped Wisconsin stay even in the battle for field position. When drives stalled in Wisconsin territory, DeBauche flexed his leg and booted punts high and deep where the Badgers had excellent downfield coverage. When at midfield, DeBauche proved accurate; he landed one punt on the one-yard line in the second half. Punting is under-rated, and there is a reason why Badger fans are proud to have a punter on the Ray Guy watch list. "I felt like I was in a rhythm," said DeBauche, "and I guess it showed."
What the highlight shows will not show you:
The Lance Smith run was every bit as important as the Donovan scramble only that it didn't come on third down. Smith bounced it outside to the left and used his superb speed to run away from the Iowa defense. He got caught, but not before he was deep into Iowa territory. Smith has a future if he can run with more discipline.
A crazy call that didn't matter, referees signaled a Badger touchdown in the first half, then took it away due to an inadvertent whistle. Hill had fumbled at the three and Badger center Marcus Coleman landed on it in the end zone. But the whistle was blown between those events, and by rule it must be placed at the spot of the fumble or replayed. The ball was placed on the three-yard line and two plays later Wisconsin scored. The play would have caused a stir had Wisconsin been held out of the end zone, but Donovan found Beckum and the poor call (or poor whistle) was nullified.
Iowa must beat Indiana next week to stay in the Big Ten hunt. One conference loss can be avenged, but with a roster full of injuries and riding a two-game losing streak, a loss to the Hoosiers would be devastating.
The Badgers welcome a Michigan State squad that is playing very good football this year. The Badgers must contain the one-two punch of Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick.