116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Hawkeyes have what they wanted: 'A big, huge game'
IOWA CITY — The Iowa Hawkeyes have made it this far and their season still matters. Really, really matters, more than it's mattered in a long time.
Let's review what's up for grabs for Iowa (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) when it faces No. 15 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium: There's a share of the Big Ten West Division title on the line for the Badgers, who can clinch a share with a victory. Iowa can stay alive and make its final week next Saturday against Nebraska again really, really matter.
'All these guys I think are smart enough to read the papers and know that stuff and do the math,' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. 'It really gets down to what we do this week. It's all talk right now.'
So, there's the West Division on the line in Kinnick this week. There's also Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, the biggest story going right now in college football. The hottest of the hot, the Heisman-iest of the Heisman-y.
By the time the Hawkeyes, a 10-point underdog this week, got off the charter after last week's win at Illinois, Gordon had his feet up after an FBS-record 408 yards in just three quarters against Nebraska.
So suddenly, not only do the Hawkeyes have their biggest game of the season (biggest game in several seasons) with a share of a Division championship up for grabs, they also have the biggest story in college football in the pink locker room.
'They've had a tradition of great backs,' Ferentz said. 'I'm not sure I've seen a better one than the one we're going to see this Saturday. He's just an outstanding football player.'
Usually, Iowa players roll their eyes and say every game is a big game. Some of them did that Tuesday, but most of them, smart enough to read the papers and do the math, didn't even try to fight that losing battle.
'I think when someone runs for 408 yards, big game comes with the territory, it's a given,' linebacker Quinton Alston said. 'We're not shying away from it. When someone sets a record like that, it's a big game.'
If you want to wade into it, there is a decent debate on the last game at Kinnick that had this much weight to it. The 2010 Wisconsin game featured the No. 10 Badgers against an Iowa team that was ranked 12th. Wisconsin won, 31-30, and senior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley was there on the sidelines as a redshirting freshman. He didn't blink when asked if this is Iowa's most relevant game since that UW-Iowa matchup in 2010.
'Since I've been here, I would say so,' Martin-Manley said, 'but we can't let that get to us. We have to prepare just like any other week, but knowing how important it is and the magnitude of the game, that's just going to amp it up for us.'
Let's review Iowa how Iowa arrived at this point: It did what it had to do against Northern Iowa in the opener. Then, it scraped past Ball State with two TDs in the final three minutes. The Hawkeyes lost on a last-second field goal to Iowa State, an upset by measure of Vegas odds. Great second-half comeback at Pittsburgh. Easy victory over at Purdue. Wild ride over running back Tevin Coleman and Indiana. A flop at Maryland. A triumphant destruction of nemesis Northwestern. Complete disaster at Minnesota. And then last week's glorified practice at Illinois.
And now this — a November game in Kinnick Stadium against a bitter rival to stay alive in the division championship playoffs.
It's exactly what they want, it's exactly what they signed up for.
'We've had some adversity this year,' senior defensive tackle Carl Davis said. 'We took pride in our last two games last season (victories over Michigan and Nebraska). We took care of business in those games and we're looking to repeat that.
'When you're this close to being where you want to be, you get that sense of urgency. It's a little different. You get a little more energy, because, you know, we're still in it. We've got some stuff to play for. We're really looking forward to this opportunity.'
As he entered the indoor practice facility Tuesday, strong safety John Lowdermilk was playfully shoved by running back Mark Weisman, who just finished saying, 'I think it's what every player wants, every player who goes to any school ever in college football. It's really what you work so hard for in the offseason, waking up at 4 a.m. or whatever, it's for these types of things.'
Every player who goes to any school ever. It's exactly what they want.
'We've worked all year to have meaningful games in November,' Lowdermilk said. 'This is definitely a big, huge game in November.'
Big, huge. Exactly what they want.
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