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Iowa va. Wisconsin: Joe Schobert, Badgers defense shine despite poor offensive performance

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It's Joe Schobert's world, and opposing offenses are just living in it.

MADISON -- It was a performance that nearly willed a team to victory on Saturday afternoon, and the most dominant, individual defensive effort seen in recent time for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert flew around the field at Camp Randall Stadium. The opposing offensive line couldn't contain him, as he led a unit that stymied an Iowa offense averaging nearly 440 yards of offense and 38 points per game.

Funny thing is, it's a performance the Wisconsin defense has come to expect from the former walk-on and second year starter.

"That's just what I expect of Joe," redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel said after the game Saturday. "Joe's a type of player who can do that any given week, so give credit to Joe. He's a phenomenal player for us. We expect those things from him."

Schobert finished the game with eight tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and an astounding five quarterback hurries -- along with forcing two fumbles, recovering one of them -- continuing his huge 2015 campaign. His play and the effort of the defense as a whole held junior quarterback C.J. Beathard and the Iowa offense to only 10 points and 221 total yards on Saturday afternoon, keeping the No. 18/No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers in contention to keep the Heartland Trophy in Madison in a 10-6 loss.

The defense held the Iowa offense to 77 total yards passing and only 5-of-15 on third down conversions. Iowa came in leading the Big Ten Conference in third down conversions at over a 52 percent clip. Though the Hawkeyes converted on 4-of-8 opportunities in the first half, the Badgers' defense stepped up in the second half -- forcing three 3-and-out series and not allowing their rivals to score in the final two quarters.

Iowa's third down conversions in the second half? Only 1-of-7.

Schobert -- who sacked Beathard to end the first half after Iowa started on its own 43 -- led the way in grounding any momentum for the Iowa offense that would receive the ball first heading into the third quarter already up 10-3. That second half alone, Schobert recorded four tackles, two sacks, the two forced fumbles and the fumble recovery.

The defense as a whole grounded Iowa's offense -- allowing only 69 total yards in the final 30 minutes of the ball game.

"I've been impressed with Joe ever since I started watching tape of him, and then when you're around him -- and there are -- there's a lot of guys that did some good things on defense," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. "I don't want to make this just about Joe. There was a lot of guys -- and that's what's the great thing about this game is it's a team game, and then even if you take the units, and we're talking about the defensive unit right now, it takes everyone.

"But getting back specifically, I don't want to sound like I am not surprised. I think any time you do it, that's what's great about competition is you have to do it over and over. But for what Joe does, and I think the moments he does them in, it's really impressive."

When not sacking Beathard, Schobert's five quarterback hurries kept Beathard uneasy throughout the game that led to mistakes. He forced an inaccurate throw that was intercepted by redshirt senior safety Michael Caputo in the third quarter. That led to a 46-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone to cut the Iowa lead to 10-6.

With Iowa backed up on its own 27 in the fourth quarter, he chased after a scrambling Beathard and forced the mobile quarterback -- who's been the centerpiece of the Hawkeyes' offense as he came into the game completing 68 percent of his passes and averaging over five yards per carry -- to fumble.

After a mad scrum for the ball between the two teams, Schobert came away with the recovery, though he may have been one of Wisconsin's best individual contributors to score a touchdown on Saturday.

IOWA vs. WIS - ESPN Video

"Maybe I should've just picked it up and ran it back because no one seemed to know where the ball was," Schobert said when asked if he should have picked up the ball and ran with it, "but it kind of scooted out in between somebody's legs and I just jumped on it and got out of there as fast as I could, so nobody else would jump on me. I dropped the ball and I turned around and they were all still searching in the pile. So I picked it up and gave it to the ref, and I'm like, `We have it.'"

The outstanding individual effort gave the struggling Wisconsin offense -- which only gained 86 rushing yards on 2.5 yards per carry -- their best shot at taking the lead. Unfortunately, that drive ended on the Iowa 1-yard line, when redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave was stepped on by right guard Micah Kapoi -- fumbling a handoff exchange that was recovered by Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie.

The defense and Schobert continued their rampage on the shell-shocked Iowa offense -- forcing 3-and-outs in the Hawkeyes' final two drives. On those series, Schobert forced another fumble, was credited with a quarterback hurry, and sacked Beathard to force an Iowa punt to allow Wisconsin to receive one final shot with 2:45 left in the ball game.

"Oh, he's playing phenomenal," redshirt senior cornerback Darius Hillary said. "He had a hell of a day today and I foresee that happening throughout the rest of the season."

For the record, Schobert's 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks lead the FBS through five games.

The defense's only two blemishes was allowing 144 rushing yards total in the game -- 125 yards to senior running back Jordan Canzeri -- and giving up 10 points in the second quarter, though the unit was forced to defend a very short field in those two possessions. After a Stave interception gave the Hawkeyes prime field position on Wisconsin's 31-yard line, Iowa drove down and scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Beathard to junior tight end George Kittle.

It was the first touchdown allowed by the Badgers' defense since the fourth quarter of the Alabama game -- a span of 215 minutes, three seconds.

After another Stave turnover -- a strip-sack by senior defensive end Drew Ott -- the drive immediately thereafter. Iowa looked primed to take a two score advantage, but the defense tightened up and held Iowa to a field goal and a 10-3 lead.

"It's totally expected of ourselves," redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel said of the expectations of the defense in those red zone opportunities. "We expect ourselves to be in backed up situations. It doesn't matter what the situation is, we're going to go out there and perform our best. We didn't get the job done on defense today. They scored too many points. They scored more points than our offense, it's a loss."

Despite a tough loss and the first to Iowa since 2009, the Badgers have been in similar positions before in season's past with a conference-opening loss -- something Schobert, one of the leaders of this defense who's led by example so far in 2015, told the team afterwards.

"[I] Just reminded them, like last year's Big Ten opener didn't go the way we wanted it to, but last year we had the chance if we just grind out the rest of the season and win out our games," Schobert said.

"Everything that we wanted to achieve at the beginning of the year was still within our reach. Football is a funny game, so you never know what's going to happen."