THE TAKEAWAY: Wisconsin

By Adam Jacobi on October 24, 2016 at 10:00 am
This wasn't even the worst thing Corey Clement did to Iowa's linebackers.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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Sure, Iowa just got pushed around by Wisconsin, 17-9. But how much do we really know? What was so important about losing to the Badgers? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

Did you watch the Cubs game on Saturday night? Yes, this is an Iowa Hawkeyes blog, but hear me out. Anyway, you probably watched the Cubs clinch a World Series by playing, all things considered, the game of their collective lives. They jumped on Clayton Kershaw (the game's best pitcher) early and often, pitched to the minimum amount of batters for the first time in a playoff game since Don Larsen in 1956, and played absolutely lights-out defense. The final score was 5-0, a quite respectable beating for a league championship game. Lord knows it was never close.

Chicago had the talent advantage and the execution advantage Saturday night, and it won easily. Earlier that Saturday afternoon, Iowa did not have such a luxury.

Despite a jarring advantage in yards and time of possession, Wisconsin's scoring execution was poor enough that Iowa had a chance to steal a victory—or at least send it into the coin-flip world of overtime. The Badgers blew about 13 points on Saturday: two missed field goals and a fumble at Iowa's goal line. If the Badgers pick those up, this one's a laugher.

But they didn't, and Iowa spent virtually the entire game within a single score, all while basically flying blind on offense. Alas, Iowa had four forays into within Wisconsin's 30-yard line and came away with... nine whole points on four field goal attempts. Someone asked Kirk Ferentz about those decisions. You've probably heard how that went. 

You can try to parse that Ferentz quote any way you like. None of the ways are good. At best he was answering a different question than the one he was being asked. But at the end of the day, we're trying to parse the tactics of trying to sneak a win through.

So here's a different question: how does a team go 12-0 in the regular season, 12-2 overall, and find itself soundly overmatched against a team like Wisconsin the very next year?

It's great when Iowa can overwhelm teams on talent; we've seen that a few times this year, and Ferentz and his staff probably deserve a little more credit than they usually get for that. The baseline at Iowa is unquestionably higher than at ostensible peers like Iowa State, Illinois, Indiana or Purdue.

But Iowa's staring at probably four games this year where its talent isn't going to dominate, including three of the last four contests after this bye week. That's a more familiar situation than the dunce parade of the 2015 regular season schedule, and one that means asking for a level of execution that we've seen for somewhere between 5 to 8 quarters this year. 

If Iowa had taken care of the fourth quarter, it probably ends up in overtime. Again, basically a coin flip. And nobody's a particularly talented coin-flipper as the number of tosses increases, even if they had a stretch of nine straight "heads" results from 2002-2004. Hypothetically.

Execution comes and goes. At some point, if your goal is still a Big Ten championship, you're going to need Big Ten champion-level talent. That means getting your recruiting in order—no, for real this time. That facility's a good start. Learning how to manage kids with high standards (and, y'know, other options) is a good next step. 

The Cubs took care of the talent. They've overwhelmed everyone in their path, they clinched with ease, and they're going to the World Series. Maybe Iowa's never going to be that, but some sense of aspiration to that level would be nice.

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