Skip to main content

Several years ago, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stated that the road to the Big Ten West title runs through Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes' trip to its first title since 2015 may ended Saturday in Madison. 

The No. 2 team in the country two weeks ago, Iowa now no longer controls its own destiny in the West. After being dominated by the Badgers in a 27-7 loss, it fell into a second-place tie with them at 3-2 in the Big Ten. 

Wisconsin and Minnesota (3-1) control their fates. If either wins out, it wins the division. They meet in the season finale in Minnesota. 

Iowa will need help. It plays Minnesota in two weeks. 

It's an unlikely position for the Hawkeyes, who were in the College Football Playoff discussion two weeks ago. That Saturday, they fell, 24-7, as a double-digit favorite against Purdue. 

You figured Iowa might be able to "clean up some things," as head coach Kirk Ferentz likes to say. This game looked like running through mud in snow shoes just like the Purdue contest. 

ESPN color commentator Dan Orlovsky couldn't figure out the Hawkeyes' offensive game plan. He had company. Two weeks to prepare looked like two minutes. 

They managed one first down before halftime. They ran 23 plays for 17 yards prior to intermission and trailed 20-0 before the break against a team that only allows 18 points per game. 

On the bright side, Iowa finished with 156 yards, so it wasn't as putrid as the 25 it put up in a 38-14 loss at Camp Randall in '17. OK, that's not really a bright side. 

The defense kept the visitors in it Saturday as it has all season. A goal-line stand in the first half and forcing a three-and-out on the first Badger drive after halftime provided opportunity. 

A 17-yard Charlie Jones' punt return set up the Hawkeyes at the home team 40-yard line. They cashed in, cutting their deficit to 20-7 midway through the third quarter. 

Again, their defense forced a three-and-out. The offense started at its 36 and moved to the opponent 40 where it faced a third-and-2. Two fullback dives later, it gave the ball up on downs. 

Wisconsin took over, drove down the field for a touchdown and held a 27-7 lead. Game over. 

Read More

Two quarterback sneaks against Purdue with the game in the balance come up short. Saturday, more head-scratching play calling. 

Orlovsky questioned Iowa's plan to throw slant routes with cornerback Faion Hicks in coverage. The senior all-Big Ten performer came into Saturday's action with a team-best seven pass-breakups. 

With two weeks preparation, Iowa showed the Badgers little they hadn't seen before. It ran one jet sweep, which worked well, and found some rushing room when it switched up some blocking schemes. 

It was far too little, far too late. And it resulted in Iowa dropping its eighth decision in its last 10 meetings with the Badgers. 

The more that's on the line, the more conservative the Hawkeyes' offensive game plan. Instead on giving players a chance to make plays, they opt for being risk averse. 

It wins Iowa a lot of close games, especially when the defense and special teams are dominating. It also comes with slumps. 

The Hawkeyes came out with a very conservative game plan two years ago in Madison. It put them in a hole from which they couldn't dig out. The following week against Top 10 and unbeaten Minnesota, they sprung the upset by being less predictable once they were basically out of the West race. 

Saturday called for some creativity against Wisconsin's stout defense. It never came. 

The Hawkeyes did themselves no favors, losing the turnover battle 3-0 Saturday. Passes were dropped and thrown off target. Even with the mistakes, opportunities were there with some imagination. 

It's up to Iowa where this season goes from here. It will be favored in its final four contests. The West still can be won. 

At this point of the season, you know the strengths and weakness of your offense. Design a plan to put your players in the best position to succeed. Trust they can deliver even if there's risk. 

Maybe it's more jet-sweep and misdirection. Maybe it's switching up blocking schemes. Maybe it's finding a way to get the ball to your playmakers in space. Maybe it's diversifying formations and pre-snap movement. 

Be less predictable when you can't just run over and through the opposition. The first division championship since '15 is slipping away.