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5 things we learned in Wisconsin’s win vs. Iowa

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Some mid-afternoon musings after another physical battle against the Hawkeyes.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always a challenge to go into an opponent’s stadium and win—especially in a rivalry game against a team that’s fighting for the chance to stay alive in the division race.

Despite missing out on some opportunities that could have presented a much more manageable outcome, the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers survived against the Iowa Hawkeyes 17-9 at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

UW (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) out-gained Iowa (5-3, 3-2) 423-236 on the afternoon, but left points on the board. Regardless, the defense once again stymied the Hawkeyes’ attack.

Not only does Wisconsin take the Heartland Trophy back to Madison, the Badgers also stay in the Big Ten West race while chasing Northwestern and Nebraska.

Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s victory:

Missed opportunities almost doomed Wisconsin’s chances for a win

In a hostile environment at Kinnick Stadium, in a rivalry game against Iowa, the Badgers couldn’t afford to miss on scoring chances. A missed 32-yard field goal by Andrew Endicott on their first offensive drive and a fumble at the goal line by senior running back Corey Clement took 10 points off the board. Wisconsin only led 7-6 at halftime when it should have been 17-3.

The offensive line still is shuffling around

The Badgers gained 167 yards on the ground, but the team hasn’t found a consistent front five along the offensive line. Note the different players seen at the following positions in recent games:

  • Left guard: Jon Dietzen, Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter
  • Center: Brett Connors, Deiter
  • Right guard: Beau Benzschawel, Kapoi
  • Right tackle: Jake Maxwell, David Edwards

How the right side of the line goes moving forward, we’ll have to see. Jaleel Johnson bull-rushed Benzschawel on one of those two consecutive sacks to end the third quarter, and the line is still trying to find its footing. If Dietzen is healthy, I think the line that solidifies may look like the following (left tackle to right tackle):

  • Ryan Ramczyk, Dietzen, Deiter, Kapoi, Edwards

The Wisconsin defense is among the best in the country

Iowa was limited on offense without star wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, and tight end George Kittle may not have been 100 percent as well, but Wisconsin’s defense held a rushing attack that came in averaging 180 yards per game to 83. That’s the fourth time the Badgers have held opponents under 100 yards on the ground this season.

The Hawkeyes converted only two of 13 third-down conversions and quarterback C.J. Beathard completed just over 50 percent of his passes.

Outside linebacker Garret Dooley, even with Vince Biegel’s return, recorded seven tackles, 2.5 for loss. Fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt recorded 1.5 sacks in addition to five tackles.

Inside linebacker Jack Cichy led the team with 10 tackles on the afternoon, but his apparent shoulder/arm injury is something to watch.

Overall, Wisconsin dominated Iowa’s offense, allowing only 236 total yards and zero touchdowns. This is a disciplined, talented unit that can insert players when injuries occur and continue to perform very well.

Wisconsin knows how to utilize its freshmen

The Badgers’ starting quarterback is a redshirt freshman (Alex Hornibrook) starting his fourth career game and completes 11 of 19 passes for 197 yards. A redshirt freshman tight end (Kyle Penniston) reels in a pass near midfield, then breaks a tackle and takes it inside the 10-yard line for a 54-yard gain.

On a key drive in the third quarter, a true freshman wide receiver who was originally going to play basketball at Furman (Quintez Cephus) catches a 57-yard pass to set up the eventual game-deciding touchdown by Clement. Cephus also has been utilized in the running game as a solid blocker.

A fellow true freshman wide receiver and former prep running back from Kansas City (A.J. Taylor) provided a spark on some jet sweeps (two carries, 24 yards) to keep the Iowa defense honest.

Other freshmen, including right tackle David Edwards and nose guard Garrett Rand also saw action. Wisconsin is a developmental program that prides itself on seeing its players grow throughout their careers, but that hasn’t stopped the Badgers from utilizing talented immediately once they set foot on campus.

Most importantly.....

Wisconsin is still in the Big Ten West race

Against their first four conference opponents, the Badgers needed to go 2-2 to have a shot at the division title. They’ve accomplished that.

Wisconsin still has to face Nebraska and Northwestern in the next couple of weeks in critical matchups that will decide its fate with tiebreakers. The Badgers need to beat Nebraska under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday, then have Mike Riley’s team lose to No. 2 Ohio State at Columbus in two weeks. They’ll have to face Northwestern in Evanston, which has been the site of some gruesome losses.

The Badgers need to win out to get a second chance at either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines in Indianapolis, and they should be favored for their remaining games. They’ll take it one game at a time, and they’ll face their two toughest tasks in the next two weeks.

But everything is still in play to make that push for a conference title.