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Roundtable: Defense, young freshmen shine in Wisconsin’s win vs. Iowa

Our weekly discussion centers around Wisconsin’s hard-fought win in Iowa City.

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Welcome to another edition of the B5Q Roundtable sessions, where the points don’t count and we always fire Drew Hamm.

The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers survived a feisty Iowa Hawkeyes squad inside Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City in their 17-9 victory. UW (5-2, 2-2) didn’t capitalize on certain opportunities, but their defense held an opposing Hawkeyes offense without a touchdown and to 236 total yards.

Our writers are here to break down the game.

THE GOOD: What went well for the Badgers on Saturday?

Jon Beidelschies: Aside from the continued missed tackles (especially the inability to bring down the quarterback in the backfield), the defense was outstanding. With few exceptions, Iowa could not get a thing going on offense. Had the Badgers been able to take advantage of their opportunities, this one wouldn’t have been close. UW limited the Hawkeyes to just 236 yards of total offense and held Iowa to two for thirteen on third downs. We’ve said it all year, but the the defense is going to keep Wisconsin in games all season long.

Dylan Deich: I was very happy with the way the young pass-catchers made an impact on Saturday. ESPN’s broadcast team touched on the receivers a few times and they stepped up to make several plays. It started with freshman wide receiver A.J. Taylor, who took a jet sweep around the edge for 23 yards on Wisconsin’s first offensive drive. It was the only time we really saw the jet sweep run successfully on the day, but credit has to be given to Iowa for that. Later, with the Badgers up 7-3 in the first half, redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston took an Alex Hornibrook pass for 54 yards. He shed a tackler and got the Badgers inside the five-yard line, though Corey Clement’s goal line fumble was the end result of the drive. Finally, on first and ten from Iowa’s 38, Hornibrook threw a beautiful pass down the seam to freshman wideout Quintez Cephus. Cephus caught the ball near the 25 and dragged a couple of Hawkeyes defenders down to the 5-yard line. The Badgers finally took advantage and punched the ball in two plays later to give Wisconsin a 14-6 lead.

Kevin O’Connell: I was happy to see Hornibrook continue his development. On the road, against a pretty stout defense, the redshirt freshman never turned the ball over and made some crucial throws to keep the chains moving. His 57-yard strike to Quintez Cephus was beautifully placed and he was composed in the pocket on a few key third down passes to Dare Ogunbowale. Even when Bart Houston came in in relief (which I thought was a great move by Paul Chryst), Hornibrook came back and led the Badgers all the way down the field two possessions later, thanks to a 54-yard pass to Kyle Penniston. Hornibrook continues to impress me and I’m excited to see what he does down the stretch against some lesser opponents in Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota.

THE BAD: It was a tough environment, but what are some areas of improvement needing to be addressed before Saturday night’s game against No. 8 Nebraska?

Jon: With the exception of an early 23-yard jet sweep by Taylor in the first quarter and a critical 34-yard run late in fourth quarter by Clement, the Badgers couldn’t get the big gashing runs that open up the passing game. Iowa has been stout much of the year but Wisconsin’s inability to get much going on the ground is going to be problematic against teams with a solid pass rush. We saw against Ohio State what happens to the Badgers in obvious passing situations against an athletic front four.

Dylan: This one sticks out for me — Wisconsin’s offense needs to finish drives. Three of their five first half possessions found their way to at least the Iowa 35-yard line. The results on those drives? A missed field goal, a drive that stalled at the 35 and a fumble at the goal line. That’s at least ten points that they missed out on. Kicker Andrew Endicott missed a second field goal on a second half drive that stalled at the Iowa 34. Given the strength of the Badgers’ defense, this game really could have been over much earlier than it was. Luckily, this didn’t come back to bite Bucky.

Kevin: Special teams. It really worries me that the loss of Rafael Gaglianone will come back and bite the Badgers in a big way down the line. Whether it be next week against Nebraska, the Big Ten Championship (if UW is fortunate enough to get there), or in a hard-fought bowl game, Endicott is going to have to be better than he was against Iowa. I’ll give the senior credit for drilling a 36-yarder that all but sealed the game and for his clutch performance last week against the Ohio State, but he left some points on the board in a game that really shouldn’t have been as close as it was in the fourth quarter. The Badgers also kept the door open for Iowa after allowing a 77-yard kickoff return from Desmond King late in the fourth. Paul Chryst and special teams coach Chris Haering will need to tighten up the special teams as the Badgers head down the home stretch.

TEAM MVP: Who gets a game ball for Saturday’s performance?

Jon: Got a few to toss around? Then how about the linebacking corps? Cichy, Dooley, Edwards, and Watt combined for 29 tackles and two sacks. Iowa’s running game was held in check and C.J. Beathard averaged a whopping 4.9 yards per pass attempts and a QBR of 25.2. This group is running roughshod over the Big Ten this year and were key to Saturday’s victory.

Dylan: I’ve started typing that the defense should get one, but that’s becoming a given at this point. So how about Alex Hornibrook? The redshirt freshman bounced back pretty nicely after two straight tough outings. After a bye week sandwiched between facing two top-five teams , it seems like an eternity since Hornibrook burst onto the scene in his first start (and win) at Michigan State. He didn’t blow anyone away against Iowa, but he made the right decisions and avoided the big mistakes to complete 11-of-19 throws for 197 yards. The 57-yard throw to Cephus on the second touchdown drive was a great toss. I also think there’s something to be said for a young quarterback to not get rattled when another quarterback is brought in, seemingly at random, for two complete drives.

Kevin: I’ll go with Bart Houston. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Chryst went to the bullpen and Houston delivered, engineering an 8-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that gave Wisconsin a lead they never surrendered. His 17-yard touchdown throw to tight end Troy Fumagalli was beautiful, as he looked away the defense on a fake screen and delivered a perfect ball on Fumagalli’s slant pattern. I also believe he deserves a ton of praise for the way he has handled the whole quarterback situation this year. From what I have seen and heard he has been nothing but a great teammate and mentor to Hornibrook, all while continuing to be prepared to play at a high-level whenever he is called upon, props to Bart.

UP NEXT: NEBRASKA. What are your early keys to a game that could decide the Big Ten West division?

Jon: Control of the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it’s a rotating cast of characters or a solidified group like Dylan suggests below, they need to own that line. If the Badgers are to beat the Huskers, they need to get something going on the ground and that means the big boys in the trenches will have to do their thing. Continued growth by the tight ends will also be critical. Fumagalli got his first touchdown of the year on Saturday, and Penniston had a nice looking 54-yard reception. If this group continues to be a collective weapon, then that will make life much easier for the receivers outside.

Dylan: It would be terrific to nail-down a “set it and forget it” offensive line or for this offense to start ending drives with six points (see above), but I have to say health is the key. This defense is good but after a certain amount of injuries, we’re going to see a drop-off. Linebacker Jack Cichy and cornerback Derrick Tindal each left the game with injury, while Badgers fans got a scare early when T.J. Watt was down for a few moments. Offensively, the Badgers didn’t light the world on fire Saturday However, a healthy Clement is a nice asset to have and the offensive line isn’t known for their depth. Stay healthy, and an appearance in Indianapolis could be in the cards.

Kevin: The Badgers are going to have to keep relying on the running game to beat Nebraska and Northwestern the next two weeks. Clement was a workhorse against Iowa, finishing with 135 yards on a hefty 35 carries and should continue to get tons of work the rest of the year. But the Cornhuskers and Wildcats are actually a bit better against the run than the Hawkeyes, so it’ll be a good challenge for Clement and the offensive line. With the way the defense is playing, the Badgers’ fate in the Big Ten West is ultimately going to come down Clement’s production and whether Hornibrook continues his steady play at quarterback.