The Daily Iowan

Special-team mistakes cost Iowa in loss to Wisconsin

The Badgers capitalized on two Iowa fumbles on punt returns to down the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Referees+perform+a+video+review+after+Iowa+punt+returner+Kyle+Groenwing+fumbled+during+a+return+during+a+football+game+between+Iowa+and+Wisconsin+on+Saturday%2C+September+22%2C+2018.+The+Badgers+defeated+the+Hawkeyes%2C+28-17.
Referees perform a video review after Iowa punt returner Kyle Groenwing fumbled during a return during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, September 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Referees perform a video review after Iowa punt returner Kyle Groenwing fumbled during a return during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, September 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Referees perform a video review after Iowa punt returner Kyle Groenwing fumbled during a return during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, September 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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The stands of Kinnick Stadium were striped with black and gold when Iowa took on Wisconsin under the lights Sept. 22, but the Hawkeyes ended up black and blue.

Bruised by its own mistakes, Iowa fell to the Badgers, 28-17, and lost some of its hope of winning the Big Ten West in the process.

But it just as easily could have gone the other way.

With Iowa having momentum following a second half-opening field goal to take the lead and a big defensive stop right after that, the Hawkeyes made a costly mistake on special teams.

After forcing Wisconsin to punt, returner Kyle Groeneweg called everyone away from the ball to let it roll where it may, but special-teamer Shaun Beyer kicked what was going to be a dead ball and the Badgers recovered on Iowa’s 10-yard line.

The Badgers capitalized with an opportunistic third-and-12 touchdown pass to Danny Davis to take a 14-10 lead. It was the second important miscue for the Iowa punt-return unit — Kyle Groeneweg fumbled a return earlier in the game.

“I don’t want to say we squandered an opportunity, but had we played cleaner, we would have given ourselves a better chance,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “A couple of those plays are correctable plays, and those are the ones that are tough to live with.”

The offense answered shortly after the Badger TD, churning out an eight-play, 75-yard drive punctuated by Noah Fant’s second touchdown of the night to take retake the lead, 17-14.

That drive epitomized what Iowa had been doing on offense all night: making timely plays when they were needed.

Before the loss to the Badgers, the Hawkeyes had fallen short on offense, especially in the first two weeks.

But after a tune-up game against Northern Iowa in which the offense finally starting clicking, Iowa had some confidence in its offense heading into Week 4.

Nate Stanley looked like the bona fide NFL prospect he has been touted as, escaping pressure to make big throws when the Hawkeyes needed to move the chains. He finished 14-of-23 for 256 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a late pick that went off Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s hands.

His 46-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson on third down was a turning point, considering he needed to scramble around in the backfield before chucking a ball to Hockenson, who made the catch even with defenders all over him. It set up a 20-yard touchdown to Fant to tie the game at 7.

After gaining just 66 yards against Wisconsin last season, the Hawkeyes racked up 404 this go-round.

“I think we had a good, balanced offense today,” Stanley said. “I think it just comes back down to the offensive line. They did a great job in run blocking and pass protection.”

The improvement of the offense wasn’t enough, though. Wisconsin essentially closed out the game with a fourth-quarter, 10-play, 88-yard drive before quarterback Alex Hornibrook tossed 17-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds left, giving the Badgers a lead they didn’t surrender.

Stopping Badger star running back Jonathan Taylor consistently was a problem.

Wisconsin bullied the Iowa defensive line for a big chunk of the game, allowing Taylor to gain 113 yards on 13 carries with most of his damage coming in the first half.

The Hawkeyes stepped up despite Taylor, showing what it means to be a bend-don’t-break-defense. Whenever the Badgers starting driving, the Iowa defense came up with a stop almost every time.

Hornibrook posted a solid stat line, completing 17-of-22 passed for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The Hawkeyes held Taylor to just 33 yards in the second half, but Hornibrook stepped up and made the plays necessary to give his team the victory.

“We knew Hornibrook’s a tough guy, experienced guy, and credit to him,” safety Jake Gervase said. “Really talented offensive line, he had some time back there to make plays, and the receivers made plays. We did a pretty solid job against the run, but they had some big plays in the passing game, and that’s stuff we’ve got to clean up.”

The result from Sept. 22 will go a long way in determining which team will represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin still has dates with Michigan and Penn State, while the Hawkeyes’ toughest game for the rest of the year is against the Nittany Lions.

Iowa now enters its bye week before it returns to the field against Minnesota on Oct. 6 in Minneapolis. Until then, the Hawkeyes are going to rest up and learn from the mistakes that may have cost them an easier road to Lucas Oil Stadium.

“[We’re going to build from it],” safety Amani Hooker said. “We did a lot of good things in this game. We had a couple mistakes here and there, but we’ll build on it. We know we’re a good team. We’ll get better in the bye week, and we’ve got two weeks to prepare for Minnesota.”

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About the Writer
Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Pete Ruden is the Sports Editor at the DI, where he has worked since the beginning of his college career. He has covered a variety of sports at the DI, including football, men’s basketball, baseball, wrestling, and men’s tennis. Currently a junior, he served as a sports reporter his freshman year, before becoming the Assistant Sports Editor his sophomore year.

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