IOWA CITY, Iowa — A rivalry that couldn’t get any closer with a 42-42-1 all-time record between Iowa and Wisconsin lived up to its reputation Saturday afternoon in an old fashioned dogfight that came down to the defense as the catalyst in Wisconsin’s 28-9 win.
Wisconsin’s defense was put to work early and often in Kinnick Stadium when a redshirt sophomore Joel Stave pass was intercepted on just the third play of the game, pressing the defensive unit into duty.
It became apparent early on with the offense struggling to move the ball — not picking up its initial first down until the second quarter — that the fate of the game would rest squarely on the Wisconsin defense.
“We knew that two great defenses are coming in,” redshirt junior middle linebacker Marcus Trotter said. “It was a physical game coming in. We wanted to prove to everyone that even though we’re facing a very physical offense, we can hit them in the mouth as well.”
Even without all-conference senior linebacker Chris Borland on the field — who told the coaching staff he couldn’t go after warm ups — the Badgers’ defense was up to the test.
For the second game in a row, Trotter filled in for the injured Borland in the middle and for the second time the Racine native led the team in tackles with nine and made plays in the backfield.
“It’s Marcus’ moment,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said after the game. “It’s a credit to him for the way he prepared. He’s obviously lived in the moment and he’s had himself prepared. That doesn’t just happen in a week or happen in 10 days with a bye week. It takes time to get into that position and play the way he plays, so it matters to him a lot and it’s great to see him have success.”
With the inability of Wisconsin’s offense to move the ball and the wind playing a major factor in the kicking game, the Badgers’ defense found themselves backed into their own territory for a majority of the first half.
Iowa’s average starting position in the first half was its own 44-yard line compared to Wisconsin’s average starting position of its own 22-yard line in the first 30 minutes.
A 23-yard punt by redshirt sophomore punter Drew Meyer to cap off UW’s second drive gave Iowa the ball at the Badgers’ 39 yard line. The Hawkeyes would drive all the way to the 11 but Wisconsin’s defense clamped down and held Iowa to just three points to give the home team an early 3-0 lead.
Wisconsin’s red zone defense became the highlight of the game as four times Iowa made it past UW’s 20-yard line and four times the Hawkeyes were held to a field goal or less.
“We were playing pretty salty defense in the first quarter for sure,” Andersen said. “We couldn’t run the ball it seemed like an inch. We couldn’t throw the ball. It seemed like our punt game was a little bit all over the place with the wind. … For our defense to hang in there and force them to kick those field goals was big. It could have jumped out of control real quick if we couldn’t hold those field goals.”
Not only was Wisconsin’s defense getting it done inside its own 20, but it was generating opportunities for the offense with turnovers.
With the outcome of the game still in serious doubt midway through the third quarter, redshirt sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary jump-started the Badgers’ offense with his first interception of the season that set up the Wisconsin attack at Iowa’s 20-yardline. Just one play later Wisconsin capitalized with a touchdown extending its lead to 14-6.
“We always want to get the ball back into the offense’s hand,” Hillary said. “That’s what the coaches stressed on us. When the opportunity comes we have to make those plays.”
Late into the third quarter up by five, Wisconsin’s defense again bailed out the offense with an interception by fifth-year senior defensive end Pat Muldoon after Trotter hurried Iowa’s quarterback C.J. Beathard, giving the Badgers the ball on the Hawkeyes’ 11-yard line.
Iowa gave one final push with time running out to cross the goal line for the first time, but fitting for the day the Badgers’ defense stopped the Hawkeyes on fourth down on Wisconsin’s 11, marking the fourth time this season that UW has held its opponent without a touchdown.
“We knew it was going to be a big-boy fight. We just had to come and play,” Hillary said.