Oct. 26, 2016
It was not necessarily pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers were able to hold off Iowa for a hard-fought 17-9 victory in Iowa City to win back the Heartland Trophy. This was the sixth consecutive win in this series by the road team. The score should have been much worse, but the Badgers made a number of mistakes that kept Iowa in the game. The Badgers outgained the Hawkeyes by nearly 200 yards and dominated time of possession. Wisconsin also held Iowa to 2-of-13 on third downs. Iowa was able to run the ball the last few games, but were held to just 83 yards on 27 carries. Akrum Wadley was held to 44 yards on 10 carries, three yards short of his yards per carry average this season. I realize top wide receiver Matt VandeBerg was out, but Wisconsin did a nice job against Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard. The Badgers defense held the quarterback to 17-of-33 passing for 153 yards. This was a dangerous game on the road in a tough environment in between two emotional home night games against Ohio State and Nebraska. Some were worries about it being a trap game, but the Badgers came through with the big win to set up a big-time showdown next week.
The Badgers defense once again played well. I mentioned the third down defense, holding the Hawkeyes to just 15 percent, as well as the Badgers holding Iowa to 3.1 yards per rush. Wisconsin had injuries once again. Linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Watt both left, but both came back in the game. However, it was announced that Cichy will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral. Cornerback Derrick Tindal left in the first half and warmed up prior to the second half, but it was determined he could not go. Vince Biegel was clearly not 100 percent, so at the end of the game, the Badgers were playing with three linebackers at less than full strength and were without two of their top three cornerbacks. Add that into the fact that nose tackle Olive Sagapolu was out for the game, so the Badgers were hurting on defense. However, with the game on the line, the defense came through. With Bucky clinging to an 8-point lead and Iowa moving the ball deep into Wisconsin territory, the defense forced a field goal attempt, which was missed. They also forced a field goal with less than a minute left following a long kickoff return by Iowa’s Desmond King. It seems like whenever the Badgers have an injury, the replacement is always ready to go and performs very well. Linebacker Garret Dooley came through once again with a half a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Cornerback Lubern Figaro played well as a replacement, coming up with a pass defensed. He was beat deep once, but the ball was not completed. Overall, though, he held his own. Just think when this defense gets healthier...
With Rob Wheelwright hardly playing, the freshmen receiving threats all made plays. In the Ohio State game, it was Jazz Peavy who ran on the jet sweeps. Against Iowa, it was freshman wide receiver A.J. Taylor, who ran for 24 yards on a pair of runs. Freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw long passes to fellow freshmen Quintez Cephus and Kyle Penniston to set up the Badgers with a 1st-and-Goal both times. Late in the second quarter, Hornibrook threw a pass to Penniston over the middle, who broke a tackle and rumbled 54 yards down to the 5. Corey Clement would fumble on that drive, so that play did not lead to points, but the pass to Cephus did. With the Badgers leading 7-6 in the third quarter, Hornibrook threw a perfect pass down the field to Cephus for 57 yards to the Iowa 5. This did set up a Clement touchdown to give the Badgers a 14-6 lead. These freshmen are still raw, but there is a lot to like about these freshman receiving weapons.
I sound like a broken record, but Wisconsin is really struggling to put the ball in the end zone to cap off drives. The Badgers had five red zone trips and scored 17 points in those five opportunities. However, Andrew Endicott missed a short field goal and Clement fumbled at the 1 on the two scoreless trips inside the 20. A 60 percent success rate in the red zone is not good. The Badgers have a 75 percent success rate in the red zone, which ranks 112th in the country. Much of that is due to the inability to run the ball down near the goal line. The offensive line is still not up to normal Wisconsin standards and the Badgers have trouble punching it in on the ground. Needless to say, this needs to improve moving forward.
The Badgers have another monster game this upcoming week against the undefeated No. 6 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Wisconsin needs to win in order to have a chance to win the Big Ten West. It will be a big-time night game at Camp Randall Stadium once again. Expect another tremendous atmosphere.