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Roundtable: Closing the book on Wisconsin’s win over Iowa

The good, the what-needs-work, and the intriguing from the Badgers’ huge win.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The now-No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers tamed the Iowa Hawkeyes in a tough road environment inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night in a 28–17 win.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw for 205 yards and three touchdowns while the offense utilized a fun “Jumbo” package to assert its physicality over Iowa on the ground.

Defensively, coordinator Jim Leonhard’s unit gave up some big plays through the air but eventually forced a late interception to help seal the game.

Our writers reconvened for their weekly discussion and debate over the good, the bad, and what’s next following the Badgers’ bye week in our roundtable.

The Good: What went well for the Badgers on Saturday night?

Owen Riese: Everything seemed to click for Wisconsin on Saturday, even if it wasn’t all at the same time. There were times when Hornibrook looked like he did vs. Miami and BYU last season. There were times when the running game was simply overwhelming and Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor and Jake Ferguson made the plays they should. The defense got stops when it needed.

Now, this wasn’t every group the whole game, but certainly following a humbling loss at home, this is what the doctor ordered.

Tyler Hunt: It’s hard to choose just one as I thought every unit did some good things, but I’ll go with the run game. I harped on wanting to see the dominance that this offensive line had and we saw it wear down Iowa. It seemed every carry was four or five yards a pop with ease. Eventually, Taylor will break a few more of these for big scores, but to hammer at a good Iowa defense for that many yards was impressive. The offensive line was overwhelming in the run game, and it kept the pocket pretty clean for Hornibrook to make some plays.

Kevin O’Connell: Overall, I thought the resiliency and fight this team showed on the road in a primetime game was very encouraging. The defense did not play well for most of the game and Iowa was making the offense work for every yard, but the Badgers kept fighting and Hornibrook made all the right throws down the stretch to give them a huge road victory over their biggest challenger in the Big Ten West. Coming off a loss in which the whole team looked flat and uninterested, it was very impressive to see the Badgers bounce back and pull out a win in an extremely tough environment.

Drew Hamm: Here’s a weird one! I really liked how Taiwan Deal ran on Saturday night. Six rushes for 42 yards isn’t the most eye-popping stat line, but Deal spelled Taylor well and ran violently (which I ALWAYS approve of). Olive Sagapolu also played well and seemed to always be around the pile even if the play ended by the sideline. This game was terror-inducing but ended up being just what the Badgers needed headed into a bye week to prepare for their game against B1G lightweight, Nebraska.

Bob Wiedenhoeft: Two items come to mind for me beyond the rest. First, Wisconsin really was successful on the blitz even though they were dialed up sparingly. Iowa QB Nate Stanley really struggled to make the correct read, and when he did, the ball wasn’t delivered in the right spot.

Next, how about dominating the punting game? The Badgers got some huge breaks thanks to good hustle and being more disciplined than Iowa on special teams. With about six minutes to go in the second quarter and Iowa riding a huge wave of momentum in a 7–7 tie, D’Cota Dixon forced a fumble with his caboose and recovered it on an Iowa punt return. Wisconsin didn’t score off that turnover, but it did halt Iowa’s momentum. Of course, with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, Travian Blaylock was wise enough to not pick up the punt after the ball stopped rolling, giving Iowa the possibility to make a mistake. Sure enough, Iowa’s Shaun Beyer walked backwards into the ball and Blaylock fell on it. Three plays later, Wisconsin took a 14–10 lead on a nifty back-shoulder to Davis.

The last time I remember Wisconsin winning special teams like that was also at Kinnick…

The Bad: What needs improving going into the bye week?

Owen: Can the Badgers sign some defensive linemen and edge rushers in free agency?

It’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the lack of depth on the defensive line was evident. For as admirably as they’re playing, Kayden Lyles, Matt Henningsen, and Bryson Williams shouldn’t be playing, in all honesty. Also, there has been zero pass rush from the outside linebackers with Andrew Van Ginkel limited. They’ll need more from both of these groups if they want to beat Michigan and/or Penn State.

Tyler: I agree completely with Owen, but I’ll touch on another group that will need to improve: the secondary. First off, this group is young and it played that way Saturday night. We knew coming into the season that this group had questions, as they have to replace a lot of depth from last year’s team. However, there were times that the group looked very confused on where they were lining up and just appeared lost in coverage and in their assignments. I know that’s Leonhard’s specialty, so a good two weeks of practice will get them better. It hasn’t helped that others left the program, but overall the secondary will need to get better when taking on teams like Penn State or Michigan later in the season.

Kevin: The secondary just isn’t there yet. They are a young group and growing pains were expected in the preseason, but Faion Hicks and Madison Cone were burnt badly on a handful of plays. The lack of a pass rush certainly didn’t help the cause, but Hicks, Cone, and Caesar Williams will need to improve quickly, or things could get ugly with Michigan and Penn State coming up on the schedule.

Drew: I know Iowa’s tight ends are good. I know this. But did the Wisconsin secondary know this? It seems like every time Stanley hucked the ball up there to one of his monstrous tight ends, there was either no defender around him or one was hanging off of his arm like a child, a child that constantly gets called for pass interference. The secondary made a number of mistakes and hopefully the week off, and then playing Nebraska’s “vaunted” passing attack, will give it a chance to regain some confidence.

Bob: I have to echo Owen, and I’ll try to give a different angle. Remember when I said that when Wisconsin brought the blitz, it went well? The Badgers really struggled when only rushing three or four. Stanley had all day and picked apart the secondary. And when he did, the secondary tended to not play the ball, instead playing the route-runner. The Badgers got burned a couple of times for pass interference on these situations. It’s amazing how bad a secondary can look without a quality pass rush.

Game Balls: Who deserves them?

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Owen: Hornibrook. All the kid does is bounce back. 17-of-22 for 205 yards and three touchdowns on the road at Iowa, and every Badger fan on Twitter wants him benched. He’s got the mettle fans have been looking for him to have, and he’s proven that he can handle tough situations.

Tyler: Hornibrook, Hornibrook, Hornibrook. I know that’s what everyone will say, and rightfully so. He bounced back in a big way. He rarely plays back-to-back bad games and we saw flashes of what he really can be. I also would give one to Ryan Connelly. The guy is so underrated. He had his head in every play and made some huge tackles to get the defense off the field. He also hurried a few throws from Stanley on some well drawn-up blitzes. He may not make the flashy plays, but he’s a huge part of that defense. Lastly, I have to give a bump to Anthony Lotti. In a game of field position, he always pins it well. Punters need love too.

Kevin: Hornibrook is the obvious answer, but I’ll change it up and go with Ferguson. Excluding his one drop, Ferguson had another awesome game, finishing with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. He looks like Hornibrook’s favorite target in the first quarter of the season and should continue to develop into a star pass catcher for the Badgers.

Drew: Hornibrook obviously gets a game ball. Hell, give him two! Tyler gave the actual right answer, though, with his selection of Lotti (throw the coverage unit in there as well). You gotta #PuntToWin in the Big Ten, baby!

Bob: Well, Hornibrook’s got a lot of balls already, so I’ll go off the board. Dixon is one of the guys who helped stabilize the team after the BYU loss, lead his peers through a good week of practice, and made a handful of critical plays to tip the game in Wisconsin’s favor. I’m already starting to think about how much I will miss him when his time at UW is done.

Up Next: Bye week. Which college football game are you most interested in next week?

Owen: I have literally zero idea who plays next week, but will be curious to track the teams in front of Wisconsin—like five teams ranked in front of the Badgers were beat this weekend. The Badgers need all of the havoc that can happen in front of them to climb back up the polls.

Tyler: Ohio State-Penn State in Happy Valley is huge for the college football and Big Ten landscape, so I’m very interested in that one. Yet I think I am most interested in BYU-Washington, as I think it presents the biggest implications for Wisconsin. BYU has crept into the top 25 and the more the Cougars win, the better the loss looks in the long term. If BYU can take down a good Washington team, it only helps the Badgers out when these playoff discussions really pick up. We all should be huge Cougar fans the rest of the way out despite the heartbreak a few weeks ago.

Kevin: BYU beating Washington would be huge for Wisconsin’s slim playoff chances. If the Cougars can defeat a Washington team many people suspect to win the Pac-12, that BYU loss could look slightly better toward the end of the season. If you remember, in 2014, Ohio State lost at home to a 7–6 Virginia Tech team in Week 2 but went on to run the table and win the national championship. It’s a long shot, but a win for BYU this weekend would improve the Badgers’ playoff chances, if (and it’s a big if) they can win out on their way to a Big Ten championship.

Drew: I’m most interested in the Newcastle/Leicester tie on Saturday morning. My Toon desperately need points to climb out of the relegation zone, especially playing at St. James’ Park, and I’m worried they’re just going to blow it. Secondarily, I’m morbidly interested in Purdue at Nebraska. I need Purdue to win that game like I need air. Obvi PSU/aOsu will be fun and Stanford/Notre Dame will be unbearable. Go BYU!

Bob: I agree with Tyler’s second game. If BYU can upset Washington, then maybe Wisconsin can point to that as a quality loss that most teams needs to make the College Football Playoff. If only UCF lost to BYU last year…

Wait! New Mexico hosts Liberty! Tickets on sale for as low as $20 and flights only $600+ one way from Madison. Go Lobos!