For the first time since 2010, Wisconsin and Iowa met Saturday to battle for the Heartland Trophy.
And it was an ugly one.
With their vaunted running game—led by former Iowa-commit Melvin Gordon—largely bottled up, the Badgers battled the Hawkeyes in a game of field position, using several key plays including a third quarter touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis to escape with a 28-9 win.
Battling a strong wind and raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium, No. 24 Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1) held Iowa (5-4, 2-3) in check thanks to an outstanding defensive effort that didn’t include All-Big Ten starting linebacker Chris Borland, who was held out of the game due to injury.
But redshirt junior Marcus Trotter filled the void and more for the Badgers, leading the team in tackles and making perhaps the play of the game—tipping an Iowa pass in the air, allowing defensive end Pat Muldoon to come down with the interception with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter.
Trotter finished the game leading all Wisconsin players with nine tackles.
Offensively, the Badgers sputtered out of the gates early in the first half, scoring no points in the first quarter. After an interception thrown by quarterback Joel Stave on the opening drive, the UW offense put together three consecutive three and outs while punter Drew Meyer struggled to punt against the stiff wind, giving the Hawkeyes great field position thanks to punts of 23, 27 and 19 yards.
The Badgers’ defense held strong as the offense gradually gained its footing, holding the Hawkeyes to just six points in the half.
They were rewarded for their efforts with 1:49 remaining in the second quarter when Stave found tight end Jacob Pedersen open in the center of the field for a 44-yard touchdown pass, giving UW their first lead of the game, 7-6.
It was the first time the Badgers offense—and any other receiving option not named Abbrederis—showed signs of life, as Pedersen found a way to get behind Iowa defensive backs Tanner Miller and Desmond King.
The Badgers defense continued its stalwart ways in the second half, as cornerback Darius Hilary intercepted an errant pass from Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock to give Wisconsin the ball at the Iowa 20.
A play later Stave found Abbrederis in the middle of the endzone for a 20 yard touchdown to increase their lead to 14-7.
It was the last time Abbrederis would see the field, as a chest injury ended the star wide receiver’s day early. Abbrederis finished the day with three catches for 30 yards, second only to Pedersen’s total of 70 yards on three catches.
To end the day, in true Wisconsin fashion, the run game took over, grinding Iowa down over the final quarter with touchdown runs from James White of 11 and 2 yards.
With Gordon bottled up, White was the poison to the Iowa run defense, accumulating 132 yards on 19 carries. It was the first 100-yard rushing game in White’s career where he was the only Badger back to reach the feat.