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Harty: Heartland Trophy to camp in Madison

[ 1 ] October 23, 2010 |

Even worse than Iowa’s clock management in the final minute of Saturday’s 31-30 loss to Wisconsin is that nobody knows when the rematch will be played.

This border battle always has the potential to be a nail-biter because it’s like two siblings with similar talent and similar dispositions going at each other for three hours.

It’s just hard to believe that it’s not an annual event anymore.

It’s ridiculous that we don’t know when Iowa and Wisconsin will face each other again in football.

But we know it won’t be next season or in 2012 thanks to the Big Ten’s brilliant idea to use something besides geography to split the conference into two divisions.

Putting Iowa and Wisconsin in different divisions is like putting steak and potatoes on a different menu. Some things are just meant to be together.

It was almost as if Saturday’s game, which is destined to become an ESPN classic, was a final plea to the Big Ten to keep the Badgers and Hawkeyes together.

“I definitely think (we should play every season),” said Wisconsin strong safety Jay Valai, who once was committed to Iowa. “It’s a very personal game.”

It’s not just personal for the players and coaches, but also for the fans from both schools that look forward to harassing each other for one Saturday each fall.

OK, now that I’ve got that off my chest, back to what occurred on the field at Kinnick Stadium.

You don’t think much about special teams until they haunt your team as was the case with Iowa Saturday.

A blocked extra point, a botched field-goal attempt and an offside penalty by the kickoff team that cost Iowa about 30 yards in field position were just three things that went wrong for the Hawkeyes.

But Iowa’s most costly breakdown on special teams occurred when Wisconsin executed a fake punt that led to the game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

The Wisconsin coaches saw something vulnerable with Iowa’s punt formation and they exposed it to perfection.

It would be easy to blame the Iowa players for being in the wrong places and the coaches for not helping the player recognize the fake.

But some of the credit has to go to Bret Bielema and the Badgers.

This isn’t to say that Bielema won the coaching matchup against his former boss Kirk Ferentz, but it’s fair to say Bielema had a good day at the office at the expense of his alma mater.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Kirk,) and working under him and seeing the inside of the program has really helped me become who I am today,” Bielema said.

As for Iowa’s clock management in the closing seconds, it’s hard to say exactly what went wrong without being privy to the conversations that occurred between the players and coaches on the sideline.

But you’re still left wondering why Iowa burned its final timeout when it did, why fifth-year senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi lined up in a shotgun formation when spiking the ball seemed his best option and why Stanzi took a sack for a minus-11 yards on first down.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Stanzi said. “That’s the first thing that comes to mind. We didn’t have what it takes to play a great game.”

This was probably as close as Iowa and Wisconsin ever will come to having a shootout under the current coaching regimes.

It wasn’t exactly Oregon versus USC in terms of explosiveness, but it wasn’t three yards and a cloud of dust, either.

Stanzi did his part by throwing for 258 yards and three touchdowns, but so did Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, who completed all but six of his 26 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown.

You also could argue that the Wisconsin offensive line won its much-anticipated matchup against the Iowa defensive line just by the way Badgers methodically drove down the field.

There was many times Saturday when Iowa’s heralded defense couldn’t get off the field or get to the quarterback as evidenced by Tolzien being sacked just once.

What made Saturday’s loss even harder for some Iowa fans to take is that many now will consider the season a disappointment because their expectations were so high in the first place.

If I had a dollar for every Iowa fan that told me this team wouldn’t lose more than one or two games, I wouldn’t be as eager to eat the free food that’s served in the press box during games.

Fans owe it to the team to stay the course because you know the players and coach will.

A victory over undefeated Michigan State next Saturday at Kinnick Stadium won’t erase what happened against the Badgers.

But it will begin the healing process and show that the team has moved on. A victory also would keep Iowa in contention for a nice bowl game, perhaps even the Rose Bowl.

But now there is no margin for error.

“It’s going to hurt for a while and we’ll turn our sights to what’s ahead of us,” Ferentz said.

What should be ahead of Iowa is another game against Wisconsin next season and every season after that.

Saturday’s thriller was just another reason why.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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