The Tuesday After: Wisconsin vs. Iowa

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

It was a shaky first half for Joel Stave and rest of his cardinal-and-white mates, but a win is a win.

I had the privilege of flaunting my Badger red in Iowa City all weekend, and while I didn't get the performance I was hoping for out of Wisconsin Saturday, I'll take the fairly easy 28-9 win over our conference rival.

The Badgers put forth their weakest offensive performance of the season, but maybe their most dominant defensive performance. Playing without their senior leader and captain Chris Borland, Wisconsin's Marcus Trotter-led defense was superb all game long, and the creativity of Dave Aranda continues to pay dividends.

It was certainly an ugly win as the wind gave fits to both sides all game long, but the Badgers forced some critical turnovers in the second half that the offense then turned into points. Simply put, that's the recipe for winning on the road, and credit the boys for making things happen when they needed to.

Wisconsin is 6-2 through the first eight games, and the Badgers are in prime position to play themselves into BCS at-large consideration as long as they don't stumble down the home stretch. Still, though, we all know how much better Wisconsin can play, and I'd like to see a more complete performance this Saturday against BYU.

In the meantime, let's diagnose what we liked and what we didn't against the Hawkeyes.

What we liked

Wisconsin's defense was flat-out brilliant Saturday, especially on third down. The Badgers forced Iowa to go an atrocious 4-of-18 on third down in its home stadium, and that to me personifies dominance.

In my time as a Wisconsin fan, I don't know if I remember a better defense on third down. Any time Iowa had a third down and 5-plus yards still to gain, I had complete confidence that the Badgers would force the punt or field goal. That's such a nice luxury to have from a fan's perspective, and certainly from a coach's perspective, for that matter.

You've also got to mention the Badgers' stout defense in the red zone. Iowa had four trips there, but not once did it come away with six. I think the turning point in the game might've been late in the second quarter, when Iowa had 1st-and-Goal after two consecutive big plays, yet Wisconsin's defense held up and forced the Hawks to settle for three points. That stand also catapulted the Badgers' offense into a little rhythm, as Joel Stave hit Jacob Pedersen for a 44-yard touchdown before intermission.

For as crappy as Wisconsin's offense was for the first 30 minutes, the Badgers still had the lead against an Iowa team that had led at halftime in each of its previous games. All credit for the halftime lead and Saturday's win goes to the D.

What needs to improve

Unfortunately for the Badgers, the offense was about as bad on third down as the defense was good.

Four-of-15 on third down won't cut it moving forward, especially when you consider the Badgers have a couple games left against teams that aren't slouches. BYU has won five straight entering this weekend's game at Camp Randall Stadium, and the Cougars are also coming off the bye. I expect Wisconsin to win this one, but it's going to be tough sledding early on, and Stave needs to do a much better job of handling the pressure teams bring on third downs.

I thought Stave improved quite a bit in this regard as Saturday's game wore on, but he's still not a complete quarterback in terms of delivering strikes with blitzers flashing down in front of his face. His couple of first-down scampers was nice, though -- I'll definitely admit that much.

Another area that has been a little inconsistent over the course of this season for the Badgers is getting good starts out of the gate. Wisconsin started hot against Illinois two weeks ago, but the start against Iowa was simply awful. BYU is a very quality opponent and the Badgers can ill-afford to start slow in a second consecutive week.

Which player impressed?

Marcus Trotter -- is there really another option here? ESPN's announcers, Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman, were gushing over Trotter's efforts replacing Chris Borland, and they were right to do so. Trotter led Wisconsin in tackles Saturday, finishing with nine. He was also credited with a tackle-and-a-half for loss and a quarterback hurry.

I can't say enough how cool it is to see a guy living in the shadow of an all-time Badger great come out and play the way Trotter has the past couple games. He looks like a player that belongs, and I hope Aranda and the rest of Wisconsin's staff continue to find ways to use him when Borland returns.

Trotter had two huge plays Saturday to note specifically. First, he stood up Iowa's bruising tailback on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter with the Hawks driving. Trotter might not have finished the tackle the way Borland might have, but that was about as close as you can come to making a Borland-like stop in a crucial situation.

Then, Trotter shook a would-be blocker and nearly sacked Iowa's backup quarterback, C.J. Beathard, in the fourth quarter. While he didn't get the sack, his pressure forced an errant throw that eventually tipped into the hands of an opportunistic Pat Muldoon, and that turnover essentially put the game away for Wisconsin.

Which player underwhelmed?

This might be a shocker given all of Badger Nation's infatuation with him throughout this season, but Melvin Gordon gets the nod here.

I didn't think the offensive line gave him much help, but in watching the game back a couple of times, it was also Gordon's most indecisive and hesitant performance to date.

Credit Iowa's great linebackers for having the ability to key in on Gordon throughout the game, but there were also multiple times that he didn't burst through seams he would normally hit with aggression. As a result, Gordon's 62 yards on the ground were his lowest output of the season.

I guess another reason he gets my vote here is because I was boasting about Gordon's abilities to my Hawkeye buddies all week, and given that he was once committed to Iowa, I was expecting him to come out and run roughshod over the Hawks. That certainly did not happen, and I suppose that even the best running back in the country has an off week.

Gordon should be back as a dominant force this weekend.

Next up

The BYU Cougars, led by the guy with the best name in coaching: Bronco Mendenhall.

As we mentioned earlier, BYU has won five games in a row, and everybody saw what the Cougars did to the then-ranked Texas Longhorns on the road earlier this season.

Their 14th-ranked rushing attack is led by talented dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, whose 841 yards on the ground are the second-most for a quarterback in the country.

Wisconsin has a really, really good defense, but we saw how the lack of speed from the linebackers hurt the Badgers on the edge against more athletic teams like Ohio State and Arizona State. While BYU isn't on those teams' level, the Cougars do have some speed to be wary of Saturday.

Prediction: The Badgers struggle a bit out of the gate as they allow a long touchdown run from Hill, but Stave eventually gets things going, with James White in the passing game out of the backfield to make the difference. Plus, Mr. Gordon gets things back on track in his quest for the Doak Walker Award. Wisconsin wins it, 38-24.

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