Wisconsin’s dagger drive ruins Iowa’s hope for an upset

Iowa contained Wisconsin for most of the game Saturday until the Badgers went on a gut-punch drive late in the fourth quarter.


Nick Rohlman

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

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

Iowa’s upset bid sailed just over linebacker Nick Niemann and into the arms of Wisconsin wide receiver A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter in Kinnick on Sept. 22.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook connected with one of his favorite targets in the end zone to cap off a 10-play, 88-yard drive that ate up 4:43.

It’s a theme Hawkeye fans know too well — last season in Kinnick, Penn State drove and scored the game-winning touchdown as the clock hit double zeros; during the 2015 season, Michigan State compiled a 22-play drive to take a late lead in the Big Ten Championship. Despite seemingly having the Badgers cornered, the Hawkeyes managed to give up a methodical, gut-punch drive.

The most infamous play of that drive, from the Hawkeyes’ point of view, will likely be Hornibrook’s pass to Taylor, who from the get-go, was covered by Niemann, which was drawn up on Iowa’s side.

“We do that frequently. That’s part of our defense,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Yeah, the guy made a good throw, and they got, receiver did a good job of getting open, and it’s just part of what we do.”

Nick Rohlman
Wisconsin huddles at the 12 yard line at the beginning of their eventual game-winning drive during Iowa’s game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 28-17.

The go-ahead drive started at Wisconsin’s 12-yard line with 5:40 to play. Hornibrook’s best throw of the drive came before his late touchdown; with four minutes remaining, he lobbed a pass to Kendric Pryor for a gain of 28 yards. Pryor’s double move on Hawkeye corner Michael Ojemudia freed him for a split second, and that’s all the Badgers needed.

Hornibrook was on his A-game on that drive, completing all five of his passes for 67 yards.

“We knew Hornibrook’s a tough guy, an experienced guy, and credit to him,” safety Jake Gervase said. “He had some time back there to make some plays, and the receivers made plays.”

For most of the night on Sept. 22, Iowa’s bend-and-don’t-break defense was on full display. Before giving up 125 yards on Wisconsin’s final two drives, the Hawkeyes held the Badgers mostly in check, limiting them to just 14 points and 290 yards of offense.

On Wisconsin’s final two possessions, however, the defense fell apart. Wisconsin’s second-to-last drive featured a perfect blend of running and passing plays, resulting in no incompletions and 24 yards on the ground.

The passing game found life in the game’s final five minutes thanks to a consistent running game that kept the Iowa defense honest, even if the Hawkeyes knew exactly what the Badgers were doing.

“They were running up the middle basically all they wanted,” defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. “They got probably 6 to 8 yards every first down, and that’s something we can’t let happen, just running the same play up the middle every time.”

Now faced with its bye week, Iowa will have time to regroup heading into its contest with Minnesota on Oct. 6 in Minneapolis.

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