After a historic takedown of then top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday, the Wisconsin football team must come back to reality quickly as it prepares to face Iowa on Saturday in another potential season-defining game.
Coach Bret Bielema immediately acknowledged the magnitude of the upcoming battle for the Heartland trophy.
“It’s a trophy game…It’s not just bragging rights for a year, it’s bragging rights for a number of years. I know, as a head coach, [this game] is a big part in recruiting, it’s a big part in where we stand in the Big Ten, and on a national level,” Bielema said.
The Hawkeyes, who are undefeated in conference play, perform in a charged, hostile environment at rowdy Kinnick Stadium. But Bielema noted that his players are ready for the opportunity.
“It’s a hostile environment. They’re right on top of you. I think our kids will embrace the challenge, but we’ve got to have crowd noise in there over the course of the week when we’re practicing. We’ve got to explain to them and make them understand how that noise has got to make them play harder, play longer, play faster, and it will be a different challenge,” Bielema said.
That type of mentality is what has guided the Badgers the entire season and is a large reason why they have been successful.
“You set the level of success on Saturday by what you did during the week. Now, [exhibiting a high level of play] is expected,” Bielema said, stressing the importance of thorough and quality preparation to properly execute on game day.
Carimi plays big
Bielema heaped praise on senior offensive tackle Gabe Carimi for his play not only on Saturday but also over the course of the season thus far. He added, however, that the upcoming game will be another challenge for Carimi.
“Ever since I’ve been around Gabe Carimi he’s a guy that’s very focused on success. Here’s a guy that handles his business. He’s kind of a perfectionist…This [upcoming game] is another chance for him to make a statement about what type of player he is,” Bielema said.
He also applauded left guard John Moffitt, explaining that he and Carimi were integral to the team’s success over the course of the game, anchoring the left side of the offensive line.
“It wasn’t by luck that when the game was on the line Saturday we went four times to our left behind Carimi and Moffitt. Those guys stepped up to the challenge and I’ll be very surprised if they don’t again this week.”
A mirror image
Bielema noted that Iowa and Wisconsin, as teams, are similar in their strategies and systems, which only makes the already much anticipated matchup more intriguing.
It’s a battle between two programs who have the same goals in mind.
“We run similar schemes. Very few teams run the tight end the way we have in the past…We recruit against Iowa…because of the same philosophies, both offensively and defensively.”
Another similarity between the two schools that Bielema perceived comes in the camaraderie between the running backs and the offensive linemen. Having played and coached at Iowa previously, Bielema has a unique perspective on the rivalry. He used Clay’s shaving of his offensive linemen’s names into his head before the OSU game as an example of the sense of cohesion and closeness between the running backs and the linemen.
“That was John’s way of making a tribute to his offensive line. He’s very respectful of that and knows that’s why [he's successful]. Same thing with James White. I think the same culture goes on at Iowa. I was there for a number of years seeing it.”
Good news on the injury front
Linebacker Mike Taylor, tight end Lance Kendricks, wide reciever Nick Toon and defensive tackle Jordan Kohout all suffered injuries during Saturday’s game, but Bielema revealed Monday that all four impact players are expected to play against Iowa.
Taylor suffered a knee injury in the first half against Ohio State, but he should be good to go this week.
“We got some X-Ray information this morning,” Bielema said. “All things structurally were fine. What he kind of did was roll his ankle a little bit which caused him to hyper-extend his knee. That made it a little sore, but there’s no structural damage there.”
Kendricks played through cramps and Toon took a hard knock to his leg but UW’s top receiving threats, along with Kohout, are expected to contribute against the Hawkeyes.
“The good news is that all the guys that kind of had some issues Saturday will be back for this Saturday’s game,” Bielema said.