So we’ve entered the dreaded Two-Quarterback Era. Well, great.
The good news: Wisconsin won and the Heartland Trophy returns to Madison. The not-so-great news: Despite playing both redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston, the Badgers found it tough going against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday, managing only 17 points between the two signal callers. The defense was stout, but received little help from the offense.
Here’s how we graded each unit:
There are a few indicators to look for in a successful Wisconsin offense; in particular the running game, tight end play and big plays. The running game found it tough to move against the Hawkeye defense, though the jet sweep continued to be a weapon. Corey Clement struggled to find running room much of the game, but managed to break a critical long run in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown in the third. Tight end play showed progress, with Troy Fumagalli, Eric Steffes and Kyle Penniston all making key contributions. The offense made a few big plays, including long passes to Penniston and Quintez Cephus, but the long play-action pass remains a lost art.
There is still much to be done (see, e.g., the aforementioned adventure with two quarterbacks). The offense bogged down for much of the game under Hornibrook and the offensive line struggled at times to protect the redshirt freshman, including a sequence of back-to-back sacks late in the third quarter that pushed Wisconsin deep into its own zone. The offense looked more in-sync in limited time with Houston moving the ball well in the first half and fourth quarter. For the second game in a row, the red zone offense left quite a bit to be desired. The offense failed to sustain many drives and continued to leave points on the field.
The defense was disciplined and aggressive. The Badgers looked a bit on their heels the end of the first half after Clement fumbled on the goal line and for the second week in a row, they started to fade in the fourth quarter when the offense failed to take the pressure off. Otherwise, Iowa found it tough sledding all day long.
Like against Ohio State, the defense was in the backfield quite a bit but did not have much to show for it despite frequently getting to the quarterback. There were several forced fumbles but no recoveries. Missed tackles, both in the backfield and in the secondary, once again marred what was a solid defensive effort.
Special Teams: C-
The return coverage team gave up a late long return to Desmond King that gave the Hawkeyes hope. Andrew Endicott missed two field goals but was able to come through late in the fourth to push the lead to two scores. A shanked punt in the second quarter could have been more impactful had the Hawkeyes not gotten a penalty on the play. There were limited opportunities in the return game.
The decision to kick to King late in the fourth was bizarre. The play calling got the Badgers moving in the first half, only to see Andrew Endicott miss a field goal and Clement cough up the ball on the goal line. The “Bart Houston Package” gambit paid dividends, but hopefully it doesn’t have lasting effects on the offensive continuity and Hornibrook’s confidence. The defensive play calling took the foot off the gas at the end of the first half, giving the Hawkeyes breathing room to make some big plays leading to three points.
White Facemasks: F
Boo. Not quite as bad as the milquetoast, lily-white Packers Color Rush unis this week, but not a great look.