It is crazy to think, with talk of an undefeated season, a Big Ten championship, and the College Football Playoff, that keeping the Heartland Trophy seemed like a mere secondary storyline after the Wisconsin Badgers’ 38–14 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.
Wisconsin is now off to a 10–0 start, the first time that has been accomplished in school history, with the program punching its ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis in the process. ESPN College GameDay is heading back to Madison this week for Saturday’s match-up between the Badgers and Michigan Wolverines (11 a.m. CT, FOX). There are gripes about the early kickoff considering the slate of games this week, but UW will play on national television to showcase its talents once again.
It’s now a well-known fact that the Wisconsin defense will assert itself each and every week. The question now is whether will the offense put together another complete game like it did earlier this season against BYU. Now granted, that was against a Cougars program among the worst in the FBS this year, but there has always been dynamic potential with this group if it just stopped shooting itself in the foot.
The Wisconsin offense moved the ball well against Iowa’s defense on Saturday to the tune of 382 yards, 247 on the ground. It generated 31 points, 14 off of Iowa miscues late in the game to seal what became a lopsided win.
Jonathan Taylor rushed for just 157 yards. Alex Hornibrook completed over 61 percent of his passes with two touchdowns. There were #GLORIOUS pancake blocks that made run-game enthusiasts blush.
For as explosive and opportunistic as this offense can be, it can be equally self-destructing.
Every week, head coach Paul Chryst is seemingly asked the same questions, and he admitted after the game on Saturday that the turnovers are something “we’ve been battling the whole year.”
Wisconsin’s defense did not allow 14 points. Its offense spotted Iowa two touchdowns on pick-sixes in what could have been a bigger blowout. The second pick-six by cornerback Josh Jackson, off a high pass from Hornibrook that tipped off running back Rachid Ibrahim, was set up by a costly unsportsmanlike penalty call on left guard Jon Dietzen the play before once UW pushed inside the Iowa 40-yard line with its running game.
Hornibrook has thrown an interception in eight of 10 games, including all of the conference match-ups.
Taylor, the freshman phenom who is continuing the lead the Big Ten in rushing with 1,525 yards, is not immune to fault. He coughed up the ball twice on Saturday, losing one. He has lost four on the season.
There is a ton to like from this Badgers offense, despite it missing three receivers and committing the turnovers and (at times) penalties, as players young and experienced have stepped up when called upon.
We’ll see if the offense can become more consistent over the last three Big Ten games (including the championship), or if its volatility will be remembered as part of its identity this year.
I believe the only thing that will stop Wisconsin from an undefeated season and a College Football Playoff berth will be itself.
The entire defense
Hands down, this was a unit effort by the defense. We covered just how dominant Jim Leonhard’s squad was on Saturday and I don’t know how much more can be said about it absolutely constricting, suffocating, whatever adjective you want to use in the domination of Iowa.
To think this unit lost the likes of T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel, Sojourn Shelton, and Leo Musso from last year, then inside linebacker and team captain Jack Cichy to an ACL tear during fall camp, and is still playing at an elite level—it deserves every positive word written this season.
It was the best defensive performance I have covered to date.
Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor, and Kendric Pryor
Seniors Jazz Peavy and George Rushing have not been available for weeks—for Rushing, the season—and Wisconsin lost sophomore standout Quintez Cephus for the season last week. Yet this young trio stood out huge.
Yes, Pryor and Taylor only had one reception each (for 12 and five yards, respectively), but they went for touchdowns. Pryor showed his versatility on the ground as well, taking an end-around/sweep for a 25-yard touchdown. Davis led the team in receptions (four catches, 74 yards), including a fantastic 28-yard reception near the sideline.
Kendric Pryor: Freshman— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 12, 2017
Danny Davis: Freshman
A.J. Taylor: Sophomore
Don't let age fool you. These young receivers are ready to make plays. pic.twitter.com/Vb7NqUFn7u
A great day for the sophomore punter, who averaged 43.6 yards per punt across five boots, including two of 50-plus (long of 62) and three inside the 20-yard line.
Just for these two blocks. Heavens.
Outside linebacker Garret Dooley said whoever was the most physical team at the line on Saturday would win. That happened.
Play of the game
Outside linebacker Leon Jacobs’s scoop-and-score in the third quarter allowed Wisconsin to regain a 10-point advantage against Iowa. Heading into that drive, Iowa had only tallied 14 total yards of offense but was within a field goal after two Jackson pick-sixes and forcing Wisconsin to punt on its next drive.
On the 3rd-and-10, Stanley was not expecting the snap out of shotgun formation and the ball caromed off of his right hip. After a dogpile ensued, the ball found its way into the hands of Jacobs, who wisely got his knee up before possessing the ball and took it 21 yards for a touchdown. Reviews confirmed the score, and it was yet another big play for Wisconsin’s defense—its fifth touchdown scored on the season.
Leon Jacobs:— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 11, 2017
"I'll take that football, thank you."pic.twitter.com/B81rvMaew3
Pictures with the Heartland Trophy
Wisconsin ILB’s, Great Job today! pic.twitter.com/LSb6gCByNK— Coach Marlatt (@CoachMarlatt) November 12, 2017
Injuries to watch on Monday’s report
Perhaps the main one is redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz, who exited the game with a left leg injury. Redshirt sophomore Jason Erdmann appeared to fill in admirably for Biadasz, but also was guilty of a holding call on a Taylor touchdown that was subsequently called back.
We’ll see how safety D’Cota Dixon and those listed as questionable this past week have progressed as well.
Appears officials from Citrus Bowl, Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Taxslayer Bowl and Outback Bowl all here for #Badgers-Iowa.— Jake Kocorowski (@JakeKocoB5Q) November 11, 2017
- Locking down at least a share of the Big Ten West Division championship, it is the second consecutive season and third time in four years Wisconsin has accomplished this feat.
- Wisconsin now is 20–3 against division opponents since the conference moved to the East and West divisional alignment in 2014.
- In the seven years the Big Ten Championship Game has been in existence, Wisconsin has clinched a berth five times.
- It is the first time in school history Wisconsin has recorded 10 wins in four consecutive seasons.
- The current 11-game winning streak is tied for second-longest in school history.
- With Saturday’s win, the program jumped above .500 in its all-time conference record (371–370–41). The last time the Badgers were above that mark was November 1967.
- Wisconsin is 17–2 in the month of November over the past four seasons.
- Ron Dayne was the honorary captain for Wisconsin on Saturday. The margin of victory by Wisconsin in the win vs. Iowa was 24 points, the largest since Dayne’s rushing record-shattering performance in 1999.
- Though he threw three interceptions, Hornibrook’s two touchdown passes propelled him to 17 on the season, tying him for sixth all-time in a single season by a Badger.
- Taylor has now rushed for over 150 yards in five of his 10 games, with seven hundred-yard efforts. He is also the 10th Badger to ever rush for over 1,500 yards in a single season.
- Jacobs now holds the school record for career games played (55), breaking the mark of 54 held by several players.