IOWA CITY, Ia. – Matt Lepay knew a fake punt was in Badgers’ bag of tricks that October day in Kinnick Stadium.
But with less than 7 minutes to play, facing a fourth-and-4 from its own 26 and 10th-ranked Wisconsin trailing No. 13 Iowa, 30-24, in a key 2010 Big Ten clash at Kinnick Stadium?
“As surprised as people were that they attempted it there, I was shocked at how wide open the play was,” recalled Lepay, the Badgers’ radio play-by play voice. “Obviously it caught everyone not in a Badger uniform really off guard.”
Iowa rushed just two players, and Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman knifed up the middle of his three-blocker wedge for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Seven plays later, the Badgers converted on a fourth-and-4 from the Iowa 34 on a 7-yard Scott Tolzien to Montee Ball pass, and went on to score the winning touchdown with 1 minute, 6 seconds to play.
“A sick feeling,” recalled Iowa senior linebacker Christian Kirksey, who was a member of that punt return team in 2010. “We just didn’t finish the game.”
Wisconsin and Iowa meet for the first time since that 2010 back-and-forth epic Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin is ranked 24th nationally and 5-2 overall. Iowa, 5-3, has grown by leaps and bounds each week, putting last season’s 4-8 disaster in the rear-view mirror with each victory. One more and Iowa qualifies for an 11th bowl game in Kirk Ferentz’s 15 seasons as head coach.
But one thing is abundantly clear: the two programs went in opposite directions after that 2010 game.
Did the weight of that loss play a role in Iowa’s next few seasons?
“I hope not,” Ferentz said. “That’s ancient history to me right now.”
Maybe it’s only coincidence. Wisconsin didn’t unravel after frittering away a 10-0 lead and losing to the Hawkeyes in 2009 in Madison, 20-10.
“Let’s talk about that one,” Ferentz.
Maybe that fake-punt-punch to the gut in 2010 didn’t leave a Hawkeye hangover.
Maybe it’s only coincidence. Maybe it’s the reality of a couple of empty recruiting classes for the Hawkeyes. But consider this. Wisconsin has played in the last three Rose Bowls, won two straight Big Ten Championship games and put together a 28-12 record since then.
Iowa, which had been 29-10 in the 39 games entering that 2010 game, has gone 19-20 in the next 39 and is coming off its first bowl-free season since 2007.
The Hawkeyes finished the 2009 season ranked No. 7. Four weeks after the Wisconsin loss in 2010, Iowa fell out of the Top 25 — and hasn’t been ranked since.
After beating Iowa, Wisconsin went on to win its last three Big Ten games to share the title with Ohio State and Michigan State at 7-1. Iowa thumped No. 5 Michigan State the following week, 37-6, but went into a late-season tailspin with losses in its last three Big Ten games before beating Missouri in the Insight Bowl.
“There were probably a lot of things going on, not just the Wisconsin game,” said linebacker James Morris, who played in that 2010 game. “It’s hard to say or hard to attribute that one game to some of the failings of 2010.”
The Badgers were 11-3 in 2011. Wisconsin slid to 8-6 last season, but won the Big Ten Championship with a 70-21 thumping of Nebraska.
Two programs. One fake punt. Two different directions.
“I wasn’t convinced at the time that they were going to run it, which is probably why it worked,” Lepay said. “Because I don’t know if anyone in the stadium thought they were going to run it.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football