The Big Ten West was right in front of Wisconsin headed into Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. It ended with another dreadful showing from the Badger offense and chances of ending up in Indianapolis were all but gone.
Iowa took down the Badgers 24-10 in a game that featured a number of predictable storylines. The Wisconsin defense dominated, while the Iowa defense matched them. The difference? Special teams and Badger turnovers that led to Iowa points.
The Hawkeyes found a way to score 24 points while only managing 146 total yards of offense, and some of those points were handed to them by Wisconsin. Here are ten takeaways from a disappointing Badger loss:
We knew the blueprint for an Iowa win, and it happened according to script
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig (19) sacks Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
We knew Wisconsin’s defense would dominate. They did. So, what on earth happened?
Wisconsin handed Iowa 7 points thanks to Graham Mertz’s pick-six in the second quarter, the Badgers faltered on special teams (blocked punt, punt returns etc.), and Iowa was able to generate points without their offense.
For the Hawkeyes to win, the Badgers had to find a way to help them score points. They did just that on Saturday afternoon.
Graham Mertz simply struggled
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) takes the snap against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
It was nowhere near good enough from the Badger quarterback. There were other problems, sure, but if Mertz plays an above-average game and takes care of the football Wisconsin wins.
The first interception stands out, but a number of other throws, even short, relatively easy throws, were way off. He finished 16-35 on the day and totaled 176 passing yards.
Cooper DeJean did it all
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) scores a touchdown on an interception as Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Skyler Bell (11) chases and defensive back Sebastian Castro (29) reacts during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean did a little bit of everything on Saturday afternoon. He was a special teams game-changer in the return game, and returned a Mertz interception to the house.
The sophomore stud gave Iowa a needed lift in multiple facets.
Braelon Allen played through pain, and didn't look like himself
Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) rushes for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Against Purdue, Braelon Allen suffered a left shoulder injury before having to exit multiple times against Maryland last week.
The star sophomore was clearly playing through pain, and just didn’t look like his normal, explosive self on Saturday. Wisconsin needed the running game to be great, and it was below average at best. Allen struggled to 40 yards on 17 carries.
This changes nothing about Jim Leonhard's status
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers interim head coach Jim Leonhard looks on from the sideline against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s get this one out of the way: This loss should change nothing about Jim Leonhard’s status. First of all, the defense (his unit) played one of their best games of the season. The players have rallied around him for weeks, and this loss doesn’t change that.
A serious look at the offensive staff this offseason? That should be in order, but Leonhard is still the man for this job.
Fine, we can give Iowa's defense some credit
Oct 30, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Hawkeyes defense made a number of key plays on Saturday, most importantly scoring 7 of Iowa’s 24 points and helping set up Iowa in solid field position.
Phil Parker’s unit did what they have done for most of the year.
Special teams....when will this one change?
Wisconsin punter Andy Vujnovich punts during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
When will this one change? Wisconsin’s special teams have consistently held the Badgers back, and Saturday afternoon was no different. A blocked punt, poor reads on punt returns, and Iowa’s greatness in this phase ended up being one of the biggest differences in the game.
Jim Leonhard isn't coaching for his job these next two weeks
Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard reacts to a call during the fourth quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Just give it to him. There’s no reason that Leonhard shouldn’t be named the official head coach within the next two weeks, and he’s not coaching for his job going forward. The Badgers have their next leader, and the players have made that clear.
Nick Herbig is an absolute game-changer
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Nick Herbig (19) sacks Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Herbig was absolutely phenomenal on Saturday. The Badger star finished with a trio of sacks, 8 total tackles, and a number of fantastic plays. Wisconsin lived in Iowa’s backfield all afternoon, and it was Herbig who made it his home early on.
Isaac Guerendo should have had more touches
Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Jack Campbell (31) tackles Wisconsin Badgers running back Isaac Guerendo (20) during the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
With Allen clearly not himself, the Badgers should have turned to Isaac Guerendo earlier and more often. He finished with 7 carries for 28 yards, but his breakaway speed and elusiveness could have potentially changed this game if he was given more of an opportunity.