Mondays with Rasty: Inability to cash in on redzone opportunities troublesome for UW

Head coach Paul Chryst's decision to make true freshman Jack Coan UW's backup quarterback is a sign of UW's win-now mentality. 

Image By: Kaitlyn Veto

There is nothing quite like a Wisconsin-Iowa game to make you second-guess your love for football.

I must admit that I didn’t get to watch almost any of the game live, as I was taking in The Daily Cardinal’s 56-35 pummeling of the Badger Herald in our at annual flag football game at Vilas Park. So when periodically checking the score throughout the game, I assumed it was just your standard fare for a matchup between the Badgers and the Hawkeyes: stout defenses, with offense optional.

The final score of 17-9 seemed like it would reinforce that belief. But upon watching a replay of the actual game, it didn’t play out quite like I had imagined.

This contest was not a carbon copy of last year’s meeting in Madison, where picking up first downs seemed to be considered an affront to human decency. Points were hard to come by Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium, but the Badgers showed some glimpses of hope on offense.

Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston both saw time under center. Neither was particularly great, but they weren’t bad by any stretch either. Houston only played for a couple of offensive series, during which he went 4-of-6 for 59 yards, including a pass to Troy Fumagalli that the tight end took to the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, Hornibrook threw for 197 yards on 11-of-19 passing. Though he was not directly responsible for either of Wisconsin’s two touchdowns, Hornibrook did connect with freshman wide receiver Quintez Cephus on a 57-yard completion to the Iowa five-yard line. Three Corey Clement runs later, the Badgers had a 14-6 lead.

Clement followed up his strong outing against Ohio State by running for 134 yards on 35 carries against the Hawkeyes.

There were definitely things here and there to be encouraged about on offense and the performance as a whole for Wisconsin, but for a second straight week the Badgers left far too many points on the field due to redzone inefficiency.

This game had the potential to be a blowout win for Wisconsin. The Badgers outgained the Hawkeyes 423 yards to 236 yards of total offense, held a decided 37:02-22:58 advantage in time of possession and put together a handful of solid, sustained drives that took them deep into Iowa territory. However, they were never comfortably ahead of the Hawkeyes until Andrew Endicott hit a 36-yard field goal with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter to put them up by 11.

In the first half alone, four of Wisconsin’s five possessions got into Iowa territory. Endicott missed a 32-yard field goal, the Badgers punted from the Iowa 35 on fourth-and-10 and Clement fumbled at the one-yard line. Despite a solid performance from the offense throughout much of the first half, UW only had a 7-3 lead to show for it.

In addition, Paul Chryst decided to use both Hornibrook and Houston at varying points in the game, which seems a bit perplexing. Two-quarterback systems very rarely seem to work effectively in the long run, even if it yields decent results occasionally like it did for UW. Was this merely a result of Chryst temporarily being driven to madness by being stuck in the corn-filled hellhole of Iowa? It’s possible, but I’m guessing this won’t be the last time we see both quarterbacks get playing time in the same game.

The Badgers were able to hang on to get their first win in a month thanks in large part to an impressive effort from their injury-plagued defense, which held Iowa to a trio of field goals. But for a second straight week the offense was able to move the ball fairly effectively and failed to cash in on enough touchdowns. It didn’t keep them from the win against Iowa, but we saw against Ohio State just how costly that can be. Not every coach is going to do them favors such as punting on fourth-and-1 after crossing midfield like Kirk Ferentz did (enjoy that lifetime contract with him, Iowa fans).

Nonetheless, Wisconsin got the win and can now set its sights on another night game at Camp Randall, this time against undefeated No. 7 Nebraska in what could likely end up being a de facto Big Ten West championship game.

For now, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about for Wisconsin, even if the offense could use some cleaning up. It was far from the Badgers’ finest performance, but they still did more than enough to get past the always-pesky Hawkeyes and reclaim something called the Heartland Trophy. Iowa is much like Northwestern in the sense that UW fans will always be thrilled just to get the win against them, no matter how ugly it may be.

I think Paul Chryst summed things up quite well in his postgame interview with ESPN’s Todd McShay.

McShay: “What does it mean to win the Heartland Trophy?”

Chryst: “It means that you beat Iowa.”

Well said, coach.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.