Wisconsin football: Will Badgers' offense, special teams continue to let everyone down?
You’d think Wisconsin football has little interest in becoming bowl-eligible considering the team’s offense failed to show up on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Wisconsin’s 24-10 loss at Iowa made it feel like the Badgers (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) are limping to a regular-season finish at a time when they want to lift the program to the next level for interim coach Jim Leonhard.
The mistakes and blame for the loss should be equally shared between the offense and the special teams.
Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness blocked a punt by Andy Vujnovich, which was recovered by the Hawkeyes’ Jay Higgins at the Wisconsin 30-yard line.
Iowa found the end zone 2 plays later with a 4-yard touchdown run by tailback Kaleb Johnson, putting the Hawkeyes up 7-3 early in the second quarter. Iowa maintained the lead the rest of the way.
Wisconsin couldn’t do much on offense. Quarterback Graham Mertz committed 3 turnovers, and a steely Iowa defense kept the Badgers from establishing a running game. Running back Braelon Allen, who is struggling with an injury, had 17 rushes for 40 yards. Isaac Guerendo added 7 rushes for 28 yards.
Guerendo, working as a kick returner, fumbled a return, but recovered it.
Mertz completed 16 of 35 passes for 176 yards, with 2 interceptions, 1 lost fumble and 1 touchdown. He also had a bobbled snap in the third quarter.
Mertz’s pick-6 — a pass intended for slot wide receiver Skyler Bell — gave Iowa a 14-3 lead. Iowa’s Cooper DeJean intercepted the ball and sprinted 31 yards for a touchdown with 1:58 left in the second quarter.
Even though Mertz connected with Keontez Lewis on a 51-yard touchdown pass to pull Wisconsin within 14-10 in the final minute of the first half, it still felt like the Badgers were always one step behind.
Wisconsin had the ball to start the second half, but Mertz’s second pick ruined the chance for a momentum swing. A Mertz pass was tipped by defensive back Kaevon Merriweather, and Hawkeyes cornerback Riley Moss dove to catch the ball.
DeJean had a critical play in the third quarter when he returned Vujnovich’s punt 41 yards to the Badgers’ 18-yard line.
Five plays later, Spencer Petras’ quarterback sneak for a score increased Iowa’s lead to 21-10.
Wisconsin’s offensive line also didn’t provide much support. Michael Furtney was inserted at right guard in the fourth when Trey Wedig failed in pass protection.
Let’s be clear that the Badgers defense held up their end of things. Wisconsin had 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, held the Hawkeyes to 52 rushing yards on 45 carries and limited Petras to 94 passing yards.
Outside linebacker Nick Herbig had 3 sacks against Iowa, bumping his B1G-leading total to 11.
If those type performances don’t spark energy in the Badgers offense, what will?
One more victory will make the Badgers bowl-eligible, but let’s face the fact that the B1G West title is likely out of reach.
Wisconsin — which holds a 1-3 road record — travels to Nebraska next weekend. The Badgers host Minnesota on Nov. 26 in their regular-season finale.