IOWA CITY, Iowa – Decisions, decisions.
For a head coach on the road in a tight game, the outcome is
often decided by a few nerve-wracking play calls. Do you take risks or play it conservative?
Saturday in Iowa City, UW head coach Bret Bielema rolled the
dice and as a result he walked off the field with his team carrying the
To earn that 31-30 victory over Iowa, Bielema trusted his
players to execute with pressure bearing down on them and the first of those pressure-packed, game-defining decisions came with UW down 13-10 in the third quarter.
After forcing Iowa to go three-and-out on the opening
possession of the second half, UW drove down to the 2-yard line and the Badgers
were faced with a fourth-and-one. Initially, it looked as though Phillip Welch
and the kicking unit was coming onto the field, as a field goal would have tied the game at 13. But Bielema held them back and
stuck with John Clay and the running game.
With the sold-out crowd in Kinnick Stadium on their feet,
the Badgers ran left, and Clay pounded his way into the end zone for the momentum
“We as players, appreciate that, when the coaches are confident to make those risky calls,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said.
Two players in particular along the UW offensive line put
Bielema’s mind at ease when making the decision to go for it.
“I can not say enough about Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on
my left side as a head coach to be able to go to them,” Bielema said. “It
wasn’t by chance we ran left.”
But the hallmark, gutsy play call of the day came with under
eight minutes left in the game. The Badgers were down six after giving up a
touchdown. At his own 26-yard line on fourth down with four yards to go,
Bielema saw the potential for a fake punt.
He instructed his punt unit, and lineman Ryan Groy to make
the call at the line if Iowa came out with a certain look.
The Hawkeyes presented the formation UW was hoping for and
Groy called for the fake.
“That was a deep breath,” Bielema said. “We just made the
call once I saw them put the punt return unit out there. We gave them the call
and Ryan Groy, a second-string offensive guard is making that decision – a good
Middleton kid with a good GPA – we trusted him and he went out there and made
the call. [Punter] Brad Nortman did the mechanics and took off running.”
Nortman took off all right and he picked up 17 yards and a
crucial first down as he sprinted down the middle of the field untouched on a
“Back there I was excited, I was nervous, I was all the above
but I was going to do everything I could to get those yards,” Nortman said. “My
coverage guys sold it perfectly and all I had to do is run.”
“That was awesome,” said senior linebacker Blake Sorensen.
“Luckily it worked, [Bielema] looks like a genius now and that was a
After Nortman’s first down run, the Badgers sill needed a
touchdown to take the lead with time winding down. UW was playing without
starting tight end Lance Kendricks and starting wide receiver Nick Toon but the
Badgers decided to utilize the shotgun formation with five receivers during the
Bielema and the Badgers went with an empty backfield and put
the game in the hands of quarterback Scott Tolzien despite the injuries to his
“Scott has really showed me how well he responded to
adversity,” Bielema said. “Who would have though we would be going empty as
much as we did”?
For a team that prides itself on running the football, it
was a shock to see such a drastic change in philosophy late in the game.
But once again, the unconventional plan worked.
Tolzien connected with three different receivers on that
game-winning drive, including sophomore running back Montee Ball, who caught a
7-yard reception on fourth and four at the Iowa 34-yard line.
Another surprising decision came when Ball was asked to
finish the dramatic drive. Clay was a spectator as Ball remained in the game
and reeled off a punishing 8-yard, game-winning touchdown run to put the
Badgers ahead by a point with just over a minute remaining.
There were a lot of guts shown by Bielema and the Badgers
Saturday. And at the end of the day there was plenty of glory to go along with
“Whether we won this football game or not there were going
to be a couple critical decisions that had to be made,” Bielema said.
“The guys just
had a tremendous amount of faith and executed.”