WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Within 45 minutes of finishing off its 49-35 win at Purdue, Iowa washed away thoughts on the Boilermakers and put on a singular focus for this week’s game against Wisconsin.
Nearly every Hawkeyes player ended their answers after the game with some sort of unprompted quip about facing the Badgers at Kinnick Stadium next Saturday. Here’s a sampling:
“We’ve got a big one next week,” said Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 170 yards against Purdue. “(We will) celebrate this game and get back to it next week. We’ve got a big game coming up.”
“The challenge for us going forward is building on (the performance),” Iowa guard Sean Welsh said. “We really can’t afford to rest on our laurels this week. We’ve got a big game coming up.”
“We’re going to enjoy this game (Saturday night) and look to Wisconsin (beginning on Sunday),” quarterback C.J. Beathard said.
Wisconsin and Iowa traditionally measure seasons against one another and this season is no different. Like two lumberjacks in a game of bloody knuckles, the Hawkeyes and Badgers slugged it out in Madison last season. A Wisconsin fumble at the Iowa 1-yard line preserved a 10-6 Hawkeyes’ win. In 2014, Wisconsin converted a late third-and-8 to hold off a furious Iowa comeback in a 26-24 Badgers’ victory.
This year’s match carries equal significance for both teams. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) was slapped with one of the most difficult scheduling stretches in Big Ten history. The Badgers played road games at defending league champion Michigan State (then No. 8), and Michigan (then No. 5) before playing host to Ohio State (currently No. 2) on Saturday. Now with a game at defending Big Ten West champion Iowa (which was ranked No. 11 earlier this season) and then greeting Nebraska (currently top 10) the following week, the Badgers need to beat the Hawkeyes to remain in divisional contention.
Iowa (5-2, 3-1) stubbed its toe against Northwestern 38-31 on Oct. 1, which provides little room for another slip-up. The Hawkeyes play host to top-10 unbeatens Michigan (Nov. 12) and Nebraska (Nov. 25) so a loss to Wisconsin would force them to sweep that duo to stay in the race.
But after rushing for 365 yards against Purdue and putting together consecutive strong weeks against the run, Iowa’s players have developed some confidence.
“We control our own destiny, and we feel good with where we’re at,” Beathard said. “We’re not really worried about any big picture; we’re just trying to take it one week at a time. Wisconsin is that next step.”
Iowa players know the mettle of their foe. In last year’s fistfight, 18 of Wisconsin 24 plays in the fourth quarter were inside Hawkeyes’ territory. Four fourth-quarter drives reached at least Iowa’s 34-yard line, yet the Badgers failed to score score. Wisconsin fumbled on the Iowa 1 and turned the ball over on downs at the 16. The Hawkeyes gained just 22 yards in the fourth quarter.
That win set the tone for Iowa’s 2015 unbeaten regular season. This year’s game provides the Hawkeyes with their highest-profile battle to date.
“The coaching staff puts a premium on being aggressive and physical, in line play especially, but all-around,” Welsh said. “It’s always great, especially against a team like Wisconsin, to have that challenge. We’re certainly looking forward to it, yeah.”
“I think anybody out there would say that Wisconsin is a tough, good football team,” Beathard said. “We know that going into it, that it’s going to be a tough game. We have a lot of respect for those guys and their team. We haven’t looked anything toward them or a game plan, but we’ll start watching film (on Sunday) and see what we need to do to try and get a win.”