IOWA CITY, Iowa — They played for the right to hoist a golden bull, so it was never supposed to be glamorous. For the most part, Saturday’s game didn’t have much that was pretty. That’s just fine, though, because Iowa and Wisconsin were playing each other again, and it was a fantastic reinstatement to Wisconsin’s second rivalry.
Although it was just a two-year hiatus from the battle for the Heartland Trophy, and even if that golden bull has rested in its Madison stable for years now, there’s luster lost to a rivalry not played annually.
Replacing that gloss took just one thing: putting that golden bull on the line and reclaiming it with a victory on the road. That’s just what the Badgers did Saturday.
It would have been different, less meaningful if Wisconsin blew over Iowa like it has other Big Ten schools such as Illinois and Purdue. That — in addition to the lack of games in 2011 and 2012 — is exactly how a rivalry can fade. Only the super-seniors on campus can remember the last time the Hawkeyes played in Camp Randall.
But the 2013 version wasn’t a letdown, even if the score finished 28-9 in Wisconsin’s favor. It was a classic rendition of a ground-and-pound rivalry that was 100 percent ground-and-pound Saturday.
It was so grainy that when a pair of Iowa field goals brought the Hawkeyes to a 6-0 second quarter lead, Twitter was fed up with the brashness. There was none of the flair seen in the SEC or out west. However, that’s exactly the game both teams love to play and which the rivalry is known for. What’s good for Iowa is good for Wisconsin.
“This type of football is kind of like a linebacker’s dream,” redshirt senior offensive linebacker Ethan Armstrong said. “Or it could be a linebacker’s nightmare as well, if you’re not playing well. It’s a very physical game, and I think a lot of linebackers in the Big Ten embrace that style of play.”
Collisions were all over the field at Kinnick Stadium. The kind that entice 60,000 “oohs” on impact.
That happens when running backs are the same size as linebackers, like Iowa runner Mark Weisman, slated at 6 feet, 236 pounds. His first half hit on Wisconsin redshirt senior safety Dezmen Southward (meaningless in the overall substance of the game on an eight-yard run) echoed those “oohs” throughout Iowa City.
“There will be some sore young men tonight, and tomorrow morning when they wake up,” head coach Gary Andersen said following the game. He’s probably right.
Southward wasn’t coming off the field, though. The golden bull was at stake and his team was losing. Badgers who had never competed for the Heartland Trophy were centered in on returning the steer to its familiar Madison arrangement. One quarter after getting his bell rung, it was Southward laying a similar hit along the sideline on a Hawkeye screen pass.
A few big plays turned the struggle on edge. A pair of incredible Wisconsin interceptions from redshirt sophomore Darius Hillary and redshirt senior defensive end Pat Muldoon kept the Hawkeyes from creeping back into the game, allowing the Badgers to pull away in the fourth quarter. All things considered, the matchup was nothing short of a battle, a blessing considering the game could have been a dud.
The two programs sit on completely different levels of the college football world. The Badgers teeter on the edge of conference championships each season, even following a coaching upheaval. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, are constantly reminded of the contract that pays their coach nearly $4 million a year, far more than the results he has earned.
Since Wisconsin claimed the Heartland Trophy in 2010, the Hawkeyes have won just eight conference games. Wisconsin won 19 in that span, now 20. But that didn’t matter Saturday, when the Hawkeyes, with just one win since September, shut the Badgers out for nearly the entire first half.
The weather affected punts and the passing game, routine for a November afternoon in the Midwest. There was no spread offense and even the flashy redshirt sophomore running back Melvin Gordon was held to far less than his typical output. The defenses set the pace and the offenses filled in the cracks.
It wasn’t sexy, but it was far from dysfunctional. It was Iowa and Wisconsin playing football again, for the first time in more than three years. It was hard-nosed football, perceived as peculiar in today’s version of college football. People at Wisconsin love that.
“When these two teams play, for years to come, I’d imagine it’s going to be just like that,” Andersen said.
After waiting years for the next installment, the gruesome battle for that golden bull is back and it’s not going anywhere. That’s a really good thing.
Sean is a senior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Were you happy with the first Iowa-Wisconsin game since 2010? Excited that Wisconsin reclaimed the Heartland Trophy? Let him know at email@example.com or with a tweet to @sean_zak.