Rapid Reaction: Iowa defense smothers Wisconsin for key B1G West victory
Thank goodness that the defenses for Iowa and Wisconsin showed up at Kinnick Stadium because offense struggled mightily for both teams on Saturday.
Iowa pulled away for a 24-10 victory over Wisconsin by capitalizing on first-half turnovers. The Hawkeyes have won 3 straight games and collected the Heartland Trophy, the rivalry trophy in the series between the teams.
Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness blocked a punt by Wisconsin kicker Andy Vujnovich, which was recovered by the Hawkeyes’ Jay Higgins at the Wisconsin 30-yard line.
Iowa found the end zone two plays later with a 4-yard touchdown run by tailback Kaleb Johnson with 10 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first quarter that put the Hawkeyes up 7-3.
Iowa extended its lead to 14-3 when defensive back Cooper DeJean stepped in front of a Badgers slot wide receiver to pick off Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz. DeJean sprinted 31 yards for a score with 1:58 left in the second.
The score was the second touchdown of the season — and career — for DeJean.
About one minute later, Mertz collected himself and connected with wide receiver Keontez Lewis on a 51-yard pass for a touchdown which pulled Wisconsin within 14-10 with 52 seconds to go in the first half.
Any momentum the Badgers could’ve mustered by starting the second half with the ball was stripped away on a second Mertz interception. Hawkeyes defensive back Riley Moss dove to catch a pass that was tipped by defensive back Kaevon Merriweather.
DeJean was a catalyst for Iowa special teams when he returned a punt 41 yards late in the third quarter.
Later in that series, Spencer Petras scored on a quarterback sneak from 1 yard out for a score that put Iowa ahead at 21-10 with 13:52 remaining in the game.
The Badgers got on the board first on a 32-yard field goal by kicker Nick Van Zelst with 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin, which had its 2-game winning streak snapped, had scored first in 7 of 9 games.
Entering Saturday, Wisconsin had won 8 of 10 games in the series between the teams.
One bright spot for the Badgers was the performance of outside linebacker Nick Herbig, who had 2 first-half sacks of Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.
Herbig, a junior, leads the Big Ten with 10 sacks.
While Wisconsin floundered on offense, the Badgers defense had 6 sacks and 12 tackles in the game.
The logjam at the top of the B1G West became more incredibly interesting on Saturday afternoon as Iowa joined Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota at the top of the division standings with 4-3 records.
The Hawkeyes and Boilermakers (both 6-3) benefited with victories in their respective games as Purdue edged No. 21 Illinois 31-24.
Minnesota routed Northwestern to improve to 6-3 overall.