Wisconsin vs. Iowa: 10 Things We Learned in Badgers' Win
After the first three quarters featured a defensive stalemate in Iowa City, Wisconsin pulled away late to put away Iowa, 28-9, to win its fourth consecutive game and prevent the Hawkeyes from becoming bowl-eligible.
In the two teams' first matchup since 2010, the Heartland Trophy was on the line, but the Badgers overcame a stagnant running attack and penalties galore to retain the hog and pull ahead in the all-time series with Iowa, 43-42-2.
James White paced Wisconsin on the ground, rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The defense was in bend-but-don't break mode, holding the Hawkeyes to just three field goals and limiting their offense to under 300 total yards.
With the win, the Badgers improve to 6-2 (4-1) on the season, while the Hawkeyes (5-4, 2-3) fell below the .500 mark in conference play once again. Aside from that, what were we able to pick up on during Wisconsin's sound victory over its soon-to-be division rival?
The BCS Remains a Possiblity
As everyone expected, Ohio State took care of business—and then some—against the lowly Purdue Boilermakers, keeping the Buckeyes one game ahead of the Badgers in the Leaders Division. Having the chance to defend its B1G title is beginning to look more and more like a pipe dream for Wisconsin.
But that doesn't mean the Badgers can't sneak into a BCS bowl game.
Soundly defeating an Iowa team that hadn't lost by more than 12 points or trailed at halftime before Saturday, all season, will reflect positively in the polls and in the eyes of the voters. Wisconsin can also expect to leapfrog either Michigan or Michigan State, as the two rivals did battle on Saturday afternoon.
There is plenty of football yet to be played, and if the Badgers are able to win out and watch teams ahead of them in the BCS standings continue to lose, Wisconsin just might be able to crack the Top 14, which would make them eligible for a BCS bowl game.
We Forgot About James White
For being a senior running back and one of Wisconsin's all-time leading rushers in school history, James White doesn't seem to get a lot of love.
He has sophomore tailback Melvin Gordon to thank for that, as Gordon had already reached 1,000 rushing yards through seven games, thanks to his explosive running style and big-play ability. White has provided Wisconsin with solid pass protection and someone who is willing to do the dirty work by running the football in between the tackles.
However, with Gordon struggling to get going against Iowa, it was on White to step up and give Wisconsin a viable option in the running game. The senior leader did just that, rushing 19 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns to help get the Badgers offense going in the second half.
His 59-yard run essentially sealed the game, and White was a huge reason why Wisconsin was able to escape Iowa City with a victory.
We Shouldn't Get on Joel Stave
It was windy—very windy—in Iowa City on Saturday afternoon, a wind that would make life difficult for even the best quarterbacks in the land. Joel Stave himself will probably tell you he isn't one of the best quarterbacks college football has to offer, so he was up for a tall task against the Hawkeyes.
Stave did throw an early interception, but he was drilled on the play by Christian Kirksey. He was under pressure all afternoon, as the offensive line had trouble handling a stingy Iowa front seven.
In the end, Stave finished 11-of-19 with 144 yards, but there are two throws that really stand out—his 44-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen, and his 20-yard toss to Jared Abbrederis that also resulted in a score.
Both throws were right on the money, and when he wasn't throwing into the wind, Stave was right on the money. He was also plagued by drops, Abbrederis included, and even showed a little mobility when needed.
Considering the conditions and what Stave had to work with, there shouldn't be anyone getting on the sophomore quarterback for poor play on Saturday.
Melvin Gordon's Heisman Campaign Took a Big Hit
Predictably, it's been the quarterbacks getting more of the Heisman Trophy hype this season, but the best running back, statistically, has been Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in yards per carry and rushing yards among running backs entering Week 10.
Iowa was the toughest defense Wisconsin faced all season, and that took its toll on the sophomore running back. While some decent runs, including a touchdown, were negated by holding penalties, Gordon still only managed 62 yards on 17 carries, by far his weakest output of 2013.
For Gordon to have a chance at winning the Heisman, Wisconsin must continue winning, and Gordon needs to continue putting up ridiculous numbers, because quarterbacks get all the love these days in football. By having a hiccup against the Hawkeyes, it will be difficult for Gordon to climb back into the race, but he's still got four games to do so.
Marcus Trotter Is a Sufficient Replacement
When Chris Borland exited Wisconsin's Week 8 game at Illinois with a hamstring injury, there was obvious cause for concern, as Borland is the unquestioned leader of the Badgers defense. However, Wisconsin still took care of business against the Fighting Illini, and all indications were that Borland would be able to return to action following the bye week against Iowa.
Turns out, that wasn't the case, and once again, it was on Marcus Trotter to fill the monstrous shoes of Borland.
There were certainly a few plays where Trotter wasn't where Borland would have been to stuff the hole and make a play, but that was to be expected. Overall, Trotter did an excellent job, racking up nine tackles—just as he did against Illinois—as a member of a defense that only allowed nine points.
Of course, the Badgers hope to have Borland back next Saturday against BYU, but Trotter may have earned himself more playing time with his recent performance in an increased role.
The Secondary Stepped Its Game Up
Between the injured Jake Rudock and backup C.J. Beathard, Iowa quarterbacks threw 40 passes on Saturday. Only 16 of those passes resulted in completions, and two of them were intercepted.
One of those interceptions came from sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary, who was all over the field making plays and making life difficult for whoever was throwing the football for Iowa. There were a few lengthy pass plays here and there, but the Hawkeyes only managed 179 yards through the air against the Badgers.
It was an inspired effort from a unit that has caught some heat this season, but the growing pains were going to be inevitable with such an inexperienced secondary. It benefited from the injury to Rudock, but then again, he only managed to complete 50 percent of his passes.
There were several times when neither Rudock nor Beathard were able to find anyone downfield, and that's a testament to a Wisconsin secondary that, statistically, ranks as one of the best in the Big Ten.
Special Teams Aren't All That Special
It was a blistery day at Iowa, and with the wind blowing straight away, each team was going to be at a disadvantage for two of the four quarters. That's especially true for special teams, specifically the punters and place-kickers.
Since we didn't place much blame on Stave for his shortcomings, Jack Russell and Drew Meyer don't deserve much flak either. But Russell remains without a field goal in his college career, and it didn't help that his successful 54-yard attempt didn't count because Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz called timeout.
Meyer was the one most affected by the wind, as he only averaged 33.9 yards per punt. A majority of his punts also came with the Badgers going against the wind.
Perhaps, the most concerning play came when the usually sure-handed return man, Kenzel Doe, completely mishandled a punt, which was fortunately recovered by Wisconsin. Once again, special teams weren't anything to call home about for the Badgers.
Badgers Defense Benefited from Inept Iowa Offense
Being without the services of Chris Borland and Tyler Dippel left the Wisconsin defense without two seniors who are regular contributors, and it was going to pay in some form or fashion as a result.
Luckily for the Badgers, the Iowa offense isn't what you would call a powerhouse.
The Hawkeyes moved the ball well, and with relative ease at times, but once they got into the red zone, Wisconsin was able to clamp down and force field goals. A lot of that had to do with errant throws and dropped passes, which, without question, cost Iowa on the scoreboard.
Aside from a 38-yard pass play and a 43-yard run, the Hawkeyes couldn't get much going on offense. While the Badgers defense, ultimately, deserves most of the credit, Iowa got in its own way far too many times to be able to defeat a ranked opponent like Wisconsin.
Sticking to the Plan Pays off
It's pretty simple—in order for Wisconsin to have success, it needs to be able to run the ball effectively.
The Badgers didn't do that in the first half, and yet somehow, they were able to take a lead into halftime, despite getting completely shut down on the ground. In the second half, gaps began to open up, especially for James White, and Wisconsin cruised to victory.
With how much the wind was affecting the flight of the ball, Wisconsin didn't have much of a choice but to stick to the game plan and pound the rock. It applied on defense, as well—relying on the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback and trusting the secondary to hold its ground.
Sticking to the plan paid off, and it helped that the Badgers were able to work with a lead in the second half. Coach Andersen and his staff may not have watched their players execute the game plan flawlessly, but by sticking to it, Wisconsin was able to win, and win big.
The Heartland Trophy Stays in Wisconsin
For the 12th consecutive season—the longest streak among anyone in the Big Ten—the Badgers are bowl-eligible, and with a 19-point win against the Hawkeyes, Wisconsin obtained its largest margin of victory in Iowa City since 1998.
Most importantly, the hardware stays in Madison, as the Badgers have been in possession of the Heartland Trophy since 2010. With division realignment coming next season, Wisconsin and Iowa will be in the same division, and this game will become an annual tradition, just as it should.
This had the makings of a trap game for Wisconsin, but Andersen and his staff had his players ready, and it's hard to find a team that takes rivalry games more seriously than the Badgers. One more awaits them this season—Minnesota, and the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.