Iowa City, Ia. — As he waited for the snap, Brad Nortman could feel his heart accelerate.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema called for a fake punt, and the junior kicker was about to run with a football for the first time in his college career.
“I was nervous. I was excited. I was all of the above,” Nortman said Saturday of a play that would propel Wisconsin to a 31-30 victory over Iowa. “When I got the snap, all I saw was wide-open green.
“It was perfect.”
For the Hawkeyes, who fell to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten Conference, it was crushing — and will likely mean a drop from No. 13 in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 12 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
“A great call on their part,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Obviously, a big play.”
Nortman rumbled 17 yards on fourth-and-4, extending the Badgers’ winning drive with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Montee Ball eventually stretched across the goal line with 1:06 remaining.
Philip Welch’s extra-point kick put Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) ahead, and marked the eighth lead change in a nationally televised drama at Kinnick Stadium.
“The punter did a great job of being patient, let us drop out, and ran with it,” Ferentz said. “Changed things around pretty dramatically.”
It also added to Iowa’s growing list of special teams’ gaffes.
A blocked point-after kick, a muffed field goal and shoddy kickoff coverage helped a Badgers offense that reached the end zone on three of its last four possessions.
“When you lose by a point, everyone wants to go, ‘Oh, if we would have made the field goal’ or, ‘If we would have stopped them on that drive,’ ’’ tailback Adam Robinson said. “You can’t think like that. All those mistakes collectively are what caused us to not be successful.”
Robinson continued to be Iowa’s workhorse, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi connected on 25 of 37 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns, but his last completion to Robinson resulted in a short gain as time expired.
“The offense sputtered out and didn’t do its job,” Stanzi said of a last-minute drive that ended at Wisconsin’s 35-yard line. “You’re hoping (Robinson) will break the tackle, but they’re a good team. They’re not going to miss a lot of tackles.”
Moments earlier, Iowa had picked up a first down and Stanzi appeared to be motioning to spike the ball. Instead, Iowa called its final timeout.
“We kind of had a plan going in and switched our ideas,” Stanzi said. “If it all works out, it’s not even a question. If it doesn’t, you start pointing fingers. We all just need to focus on improvement.”
A teary-eyed Adrian Clayborn echoed those sentiments.
“Whatever we’re doing in practice, on the players’ side, it’s not working,” said Clayborn, a defensive end who finished with five tackles and a sack. “So we need to change things around. The coaches are giving us an opportunity to make plays, and we’re not.”
It was Bielema, a former Hawkeye player and assistant, who gave Nortman a chance.
“Coach Bielema has a lot of faith in his players,” Norman said. “Doing something like that just shows how much faith.”
Bielema’s decision was also based on film study.
“With that scheme we run from a punt standpoint, certain teams are going to defend it differently, and we’d seen that they’d basically gone with those two end pressures and were covering down,” Bielema said. “I basically just made the call once I saw them send out the punt return unit.”
Moments later, Nortman was barreling downfield, with both hands on the ball.
“I feel like ball security isn’t my biggest strength,” Nortman explained. “Coach even said, ‘If you get into the open field, slide.’
“I said, ‘No, coach I’m going to go and score.’ ’’
Eastern Illinois succeeded with a similar punt fake against Iowa on Sept. 4, gaining 36 yards. On both occasions, Iowa’s defense failed to recover and gave up a touchdown.
“We thought it was over,” Clayborn said, “but when you get in that situation you have to come back on the field and stop them.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football