Hensley: The Big Ten West is Wisconsin’s to lose now

Uncharacteristic miscues not only led to Iowa’s loss, but it made the idea of winning the Big Ten West that much more out of reach.


Nick Rohlman

Wisconsin wide receiver A.J. Taylor catches a touchdown pass during Iowa's game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 28-17.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

One game doesn’t define a season. But Iowa’s loss to Wisconsin sure sets it back in 2018.

Iowa’s season isn’t over by any means. There are eight regular-season contests remaining, and the Hawkeyes could still win the Big Ten West. But it’s a lot harder now that Wisconsin escaped Kinnick with a conference-opening win, and now the West is Wisconsin’s to lose.

The Badger win means the Hawkeyes are a game behind in the race, and by the looks of the West division, none of the other teams seem to have a shot at surpassing Wisconsin.

I think what stands out to me about the Badger victory isn’t Alex Hornibrook’s go-ahead touchdown pass with under a minute remaining. The special-team miscues stand out to me the most. Touching the punt instead of clearing out when it rolled, fumbling the ball after a great return, and calling for a fair catch at the 3-yard line — three uncharacteristic mistakes by Iowa set the Hawkeyes back time and time again, yet it was still a close game.

Despite the special-team errors, Iowa was in it till the very end, which makes the final outcome sting even more.

RELATED: Hornibrook’s big day against Hawkeye football comes at a big time

Iowa’s offense played beyond my expectations against one of the country’s best defenses. Nate Stanley didn’t look like the same quarterback who completed 8-of-24 for 41 yards and a pick just last year. He played like one of the conference’s best signal callers.

Yet, it resulted in a loss.

It didn’t go to waste, though, because Iowa’s positives can translate into light at the end of the tunnel heading into the rest of the conference schedule.

Iowa’s defense contained Jonathan Taylor — didn’t completely stop him but held him under somewhat — to 113 yards on 25 carries. Aside from the go-ahead strike and a garbage-time touchdown, the Hawkeyes held Wisconsin to just 14 points through most of the game. Aside from Penn State’s Miles Sanders, Iowa won’t face a better back this season.

That’s a good sign.

Not just Stanley but the rest of the offense was balanced. Iowa had a solid ground game, and, while it wasn’t overly consistent, it averaged nearly 4.8 yards per carry — the same average Wisconsin finished with.

RELATED: Report card: How did Iowa football look against Wisconsin?

But the point remains — all of this worked in Iowa’s favor, but miscues punctuated a night full of what-ifs. Each time the Hawkeyes scored, it appeared as though they had all the momentum, just like any night game at Kinnick.

There’s something special about night games at Kinnick. The Hawkeyes, as well as their opposing players and coaches, will say the same. But whatever magic Iowa had against Pittsburgh in 2015 and Michigan in 2016, it ran out on Sept. 22.

There are plenty of positives from the loss, don’t get me wrong. But Iowa can’t afford to win with as many miscues as it had against Wisconsin. For Iowa to reach Indianapolis, the Hawkeyes will need more than just some Kinnick magic to catch the Badgers in the race for the Big Ten West.



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