The proximity of fans to the sidelines at Kinnick Stadium, the home of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, makes it one of the toughest places in the country for visiting teams to perform.
This Saturday, the University of Wisconsin football team will have to endure the crowd, donned in black and gold, hovering over them for the third time in four years when the No. 10 Badgers (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) head to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-0) in a matchup between the only two schools that have won the Big Ten West title.
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Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said he’s heard things on the Kinnick stands that he would rather not repeat in front of the media.
“It’s really close,” Shelton said. “You can hear guys saying anything and everything — some crazy things being said from those fans. But it’s fun.”
UW head coach Paul Chryst agreed with Shelton in the sense that the environment can lead to some pretty funny comments from spectators.
“Each stadium’s got its own little nuances,” Chryst said. “They are right on top of you. That’s what makes going down there a fun place to play, but a hard place to play.”
Senior running back Corey Clement has made two trips to Iowa during his career at Wisconsin, so he’s experienced what it’s like to play there.
“You just really gotta stay locked in,” Clement said. “I remember when I was there with Melvin [Gordon III] and James [White], those guys were just getting hammered with comments. They just stayed focused, locked in, just really took focus on what they were there for.”
Since the Heartland Trophy debuted in 2004, the teams have split their last 10 meetings, with the road team winning the last five meetings. After losing it at home in a 10-6 heartbreaker a year ago, Saturday’s mission is clear: bring it back to Madison.
According to junior redshirt wideout Jazz Peavy, the pride of being the tougher team is on the line every time the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry kicks off.
“There’s always the comparison of how they’re a tough, physical team just like we are,” Peavy said. “It’s just one of those things we take to heart and have a lot of pride in, and we want to make sure we’re known as the toughest and most physical team.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook didn’t play in last season’s game, walking past an empty trophy case for a year’s time is motivation at its finest, he said.
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“Going a whole year with an empty trophy case, seeing it in the locker room every day, kind of makes you angry a little bit,” Hornibrook said. “Especially that time after the game when it wasn’t sitting there in the locker room.”
Iowa senior quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season, leads a Hawkeyes attack that ranks fifth in offensive efficiency in the Big Ten, but also ranks 13th in total offense. Beathard has already been sacked 18 times through six games and the Badgers average 2.8 sacks per game.
The UW defense is currently allowing 15.2 points per game, and is likely to improve senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel returning to play after missing the last two games recovering from right foot surgery.
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Saturday should be quite the matchup, in spite of a battle between a pair of two-loss teams this early in the season.
Bumbaca’s Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Iowa 13
A slow start, marked by losses to North Dakota State University and Northwestern University, put many people off about Iowa, a team that went undefeated during the regular season only a year ago. But the Hawkeyes are just starting to play their best football — and what better time with a rival coming to town?
Iowa versus Wisconsin is among my favorite days of the year. There’s a lot of grit out there. Fullback dives at the goal line. Sacks. Hostile environments. Fans blacking out before 9:30 a.m. Give me all of it.
This Iowa defense is not as good as it has been in past years. I think Wisconsin, led by Clement finding momentum against Ohio State University, put together a nice couple of drives. The Badger defense, well, they’ll be the Badger defense. UW fans cheer to their first win in almost a month.
Cheat Sheet: Iowa vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
When: Saturday, Oct. 22, 11 a.m. CT
Where: Iowa City, Iowa, Kinnick Stadium
TV: ESPN (Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Todd McShay)
Radio: Badger Sports Network, Sirius81/XM81 (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Patrick Herb)
Series Record: Wisconsin leads 44-43-2