By Pat Harty
MADISON, Wisconsin – Say what you want about Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras playing poorly against Wisconsin on Saturday because there is no way to sugar coat it.
He and the offense were abysmal for most of the 27-7 loss to the unranked Badgers, gaining just 156 yards and committing three turnovers, all of which came in the second quarter.
But at least Petras showed up afterwards to face the media.
That had to be the last thing Iowa’s junior quarterback probably wanted to do after getting battered and bruised by arguably the Big Ten’s best defense.
Iowa has gone from being ranked second nationally to having lost back-to-back games to Purdue and Wisconsin by a combined score of 51-14.
Petras was removed from the Wisconsin game about midway through the fourth quarter after taking a vicious hit.
And yet, he still showed up to be interviewed and the first question asked was what was wrong with the offense in the last couple of games?
“We just need better execution at all eleven spots,” Petras said. “Yeah, that’s it.”
That was probably the best way to answer the question because Petras included everybody on offense.
Execution is just part of the problem, though.
Iowa also needs a better game plan, better playing calling, especially on 4th-and-short, and better in-game adjustments.
No one player lost Saturday’s game, but the offense was more to blame than the Iowa defense, which held Wisconsin to just 270 yards, and to just 6-of-16 on third-down conversions.
It was discouraging to think that Iowa had two weeks to prepare for the Badgers after having a bye week, but it didn’t seem to matter on offense.
Wisconsin seemed prepared for everything Iowa tried on offense, whether a run or pass play.
Petras was among five Iowa players that met with the media after Saturday’s loss.
And give them all credit because there was no finger pointing or excuses being made.
Each of the players was accountable and they all vowed to keep working with four games left in the regular season. They vowed to stay the course and to stay unified, which is what you would expect them to say under the circumstances.
They also talked about how last year’s team rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish 6-2 overall.
The players tried to stay positive in a sea of negativity.
Defensive tackle Noah Shannon was asked specifically about how difficult it is when one unit plays well, while the other doesn’t.
It was certainly a fair question, but it also put Shannon in a difficult position.
“I mean it’s definitely going to take leadership to keep everybody together, but it’s a team sport,” Shannon said. “There’s eleven people on the field at all times.
“Yeah, you can say that maybe the defense played a little better, but there were plays out there where we could have had turnovers and given the ball back to our offense in the red zone. So, we didn’t play perfect, either. It’s a team sport.”
Meanwhile, the Iowa coordinators and assistant coaches didn’t have to deal with the media after Saturday’s loss because that’s just how it works.
I’ve been covering the Iowa football team since 1992, and not once can I remember a post-game press conference in which coordinators and assistant coaches were made available.
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who is the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, said during the bye week that he sympathized with Petras for having to face the media moments after the 24-7 to Purdue, while Brian Ferentz took a shower and went home.
Brian Ferentz seemed to suggest that maybe he should’ve faced the media, and he was right to suggest it.
The fact that coordinators and assistant coaches aren’t made available to the media after games just doesn’t make sense.
It seems unfair that players should have to face the glare of the media spotlight and answer the tough questions after a loss, while coordinators and assistant coaches are spared that responsibility.
But it’s not just an Iowa thing as virtually every program handles it that way.
It would have been interesting to hear what Brian Ferentz had to say about his sputtering offense and about some of the play calls in Saturday’s game, especially the play on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter when fullback Monte Pottebaum was stopped short of gaining a first down.
Iowa was trailing 20-7 when Pottebaum was stopped short with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
Iowa had called a timeout before the play, and it was decided that sending Pottebaum into the teeth of the Wisconsin defense was the best option.
“Needless to say, we thought it was the best call,” Kirk Ferentz said. “And needless to say, it wasn’t successful.”
The Iowa offense showed a spark in the third quarter, and it felt as if the momentum was shifting when Petras scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 8 minutes, 21 seconds left in the quarter.
There still was plenty of time for Iowa to chip away at the lead, but the offense failed to deliver.
Iowa had played 29 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to score at least 25 points.
And though the streak ended against the Badgers, the Iowa defense was hardly to blame.
Unlike the Purdue game, the Iowa defense played well enough to win on Saturday.
It just needed some help from the offense.
Iowa committed all three of its turnovers in the second quarter, trailed 20-0 at halftime and barely mounted any threat in the second half as the offense continued to sputter.
Charlie Jones returned the opening kick 44 yards to the Iowa 45-yard line.
However, the offense failed to capitalize on the good field position as it ran three plays that gained hardly anything before having to punt.
The three-play-and-out scenario would prove to be a theme for the Iowa offense in the first half, and for most of the game.
In fact, Iowa was held without a first down until late in the second quarter and only had 17 yards in the first two quarters.
The 20-0 halftime deficit could’ve been much worse if not for the Iowa defense getting two key stops that led to field goals instead of touchdowns after the Badgers had taken over deep in Iowa territory.
The Iowa defense also held on fourth down at its own 1-yard line, preventing another Wisconsin touchdown in the second quarter.
Iowa’s performance on offense in the first half was horrendous.
The running game was non-existent.
The passing game was borderline pathetic.
And the blocking up front left so much to be desired.
Petras struggled with pocket awareness in the first half, and he also missed on some throws and was hurt by some drops. But he also had hardly any time to throw from the pocket as the Badgers repeatedly caused the pocket to collapse.
Petras was sacked six times in Saturday’s game and Iowa only had 24 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, finished with 166 rushing yards, but some of that was probably due to the Iowa defense getting fatigued.
Iowa has a unique and delicate situation with the offensive coordinator being the son of the head coach.
It’s fine when the team is winning, but it creates an awkward situation during tough times such as Saturday.
Kirk Ferentz was asked how confident he is about turning things around with four games left in the regular season.
Iowa’s next game is Saturday at Northwestern.
“This is my 23rd year and I’ve had confidence in our coaches for 23 years,” Kirk Ferentz said. “And that’s how I feel right now. We’ll do what we do every time we hit a bump. You pull together. You work hard.
“We’ve got a good group of people. We’ve got a good staff of people and we’ll figure out what we can do to get better. It’ll be a collective effort all week and deservedly. But I’ve got total confidence in our staff. I think we have an outstanding staff.”
Many Iowa fans would probably disagree.
Wisconsin 27, Iowa 7
Iowa 0 0 7 0 – 7
Wisconsin 7 13 0 7 – 27
W – Jake Ferguson 4 pass from Graham Mertz (Collin Larsh kick)
W – Larsh 29 FG
W – Mertz 1 run (Larsh kick)
W – Larsh 32 FG
I – Spencer Petras 1 run (Caleb Shudak kick)
W – Mertz 1 run (Larsh kick)