Iowa vs. Wisconsin report card: Cooper DeJean, Deontae Craig shine in third straight win
IOWA CITY — Iowa football beat Wisconsin, 24-10, on Saturday and, in the process, did something that seemed impossible at the start of the season.
The Hawkeyes have now won three straight games against Big Ten opponents. Iowa has won two of those games by over 20 points and got close to that against the Badgers. Those totals stand out even more, considering the offense didn’t even score a single point in the season opener.
Three wins in a row is a really good thing for Iowa (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten).
But this game was far from perfect across every unit.
There are always positives as the Hawkeyes keep winning games. There are also negatives that need to be addressed because ignoring issues just because there’s another tally in the win column isn’t going to get Iowa far in the late part of the season.
That’s looking ahead, though. For now, let’s focus on how the Hawkeyes graded out against Wisconsin.
Offense: No favors from the line
Iowa may have won this game, but the box score leaves a lot of questions as to how the Hawkeyes did it.
Spencer Petras threw for 94 yards and zero touchdowns; his only score came on the ground. Kaleb Johnson led the way with 57 rushing yards and the only other offensive touchdown of the game. Cumulatively, Iowa had just 52 rushing yards.
That’s where the highlights end.
Iowa’s offensive line struggled to do its main job: Protect the quarterback. Wisconsin had two sacks and five tackles for loss in the first quarter. By the end of the game, the Badgers sacked Petras six times for a loss of 42 total yards. Wisconsin also had more TFLs – 11 compared to Iowa’s 9 – and pushed the Hawkeyes back 56 yards on takedowns alone.
It’s no wonder that even when Iowa’s offense seemingly clicks and can move down the field, they only put up 14 points.
Sure, this was expected to be a lower-scoring game based on the strengths of both defenses. But Iowa’s defense gave the offense a lot of opportunities. Yet again, the Hawkeyes couldn’t capitalize on several of them.
Defense: Definition of team effort holding off Wisconsin
Looking at Iowa’s defense against Wisconsin, it’s impossible to highlight just one player.
Do you pick Jack Campbell, who finished with a game-high 11 total tackles? Or Cooper Dejean, who had 10 tackles and a pick-six? Deontae Craig, Logan Lee, Joe Evans and Logan Van Ness combined for four sacks.
Kaevon Merriweather broke up two passes; Riley Moss got in the way of one.
Iowa and Wisconsin had the same number of first downs (11) but the Hawkeyes only allowed the Badgers in the red zone once. Oh, and that one trip to the red zone resulted in a field goal, not a touchdown.
That’s about as good as it can get without posting a shutout.
Special teams: Cooper DeJean makes up for weak moments
DeJean and Craig were good on defense. That success continued on special teams.
It started with Craig blocking a punt – which Jay Higgins recovered – that the offense converted into a touchdown. DeJean had 82 total yards on punt returns, including a 41-yard run that put Iowa on the 18-yard line and allowed the Hawkeyes to add another touchdown off a big special teams moment. He also hustled to down a punt at the 1-yard line.
But this was not the best game for the rest of the unit.
Tory Taylor punted nine times. He averaged 43.4 yards per punt and placed the ball within the 20 twice, which would be a solid performance for any other punter. He had a very uncharacteristic punt, one that spiraled low. But over half of his punts gave Wisconsin possession in front of the 30-yard line and forced the defense to really step up again.
Expectations are so high for Iowa’s special teams that when they have a game that’s even slightly off, people notice. Luckily, those punts weren’t a problem with Iowa’s defense against Wisconsin.
Coaching: Nothing special, but got the job done
Special teams responded well with solid coverage. Defense was sound, all around. Offense put points on the board, which is a win for Iowa. So, maybe this coaching critique is a bit nitpicky.
It wasn’t a smart move to burn a timeout early in the third quarter because the offense wasn’t prepared. The Hawkeyes didn’t need it, in the end, but there was no guarantee at that point that Wisconsin couldn’t come back to make it tight late in the fourth quarter.
The biggest fault seemed to be the absence of preparation for how to handle Nick Herbig. He set the tone of Wisconsin’s defense early with a strip sack on Petras. He finished the game with three sacks – half of the Badgers' total. It’s not like his impact was a surprise for Iowa. But there were no adjustments on the offensive line that could shut him down.
Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.