Iowa-Wisconsin always matters, but now it matters a lot this Saturday
The game gets circled on the calendar every year, simply because of what it is. Whenever Iowa and Wisconsin get together, it’s a deal.
Most of the time, it’s a big deal.
Saturday, somewhat surprisingly and shockingly, now it’s a huge deal.
We wouldn’t have expected that earlier in the month, not when Wisconsin was a trendy pick to win the Big Ten, earn a College Football Playoff spot and contend for a national title.
Iowa, meanwhile, was just one of the pack of middling teams in the Big Ten West, none of whom had the ability to hang with Wisconsin. The Badgers were prohibitive favorites to win the division.
And then last Saturday happened. After two ugly weeks, Iowa finally found its offense, which was mildly surprising. But the shocker was up in Madison, where the seemingly unbeaten Badgers got rough up by BYU and lost 24-21. This was a BYU team that lost nine games a year.
So all of a sudden, we have to look at Saturday night’s primetime showdown as a real game, a battle for B1G West supremacy. These two teams are ready for battle.
“In this series, we know who they are. They know who we are.” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “That’s the good news. The bad news is we know who they are. And they give up (not many) points per game. That’s the challenge.
“The thing that’s significant here is they’ve had a philosophy in place. They’ve had a staff that’s been in place. It’s amazingly uncommon in college football. It seems like every three years, you’re looking at a new menu.”
You can say the same thing about Iowa, of course. Ferentz has run the show for two decades, and he’s basically run it the same way every year, relying on strong defense and a conservative approach on offense. Watching Wisconsin is like looking in the mirror. The two programs are eerily similar, though the Badgers have had the better of it lately.
Wisconsin has had nine double-digit win seasons since 2004 and have won five division titles and three conference titles since then. They do it the same way too.
“They have a DNA that’s been pretty consistent,” Ferentz said. “How do you crack the safe against them? It’s hard. It took a really good effort (by BYU), and that’s what it’s going to take Saturday. Points are going to be tough.”
They sure will be, for two reasons. One, Wisconsin’s defense is very good, even though it got gashed a few times by BYU. And Iowa’s offense still has a lot to prove. They were better last week against Northern Iowa, rolling up more than 500 yards, but this is Wisconsin, and the Badgers have one of the stingiest defenses in the country.
It will be an intense, hard-fought battle that likely will swing on a play or two. We didn’t expect that a few ago, but now it’s on.
And it should be fun.