This is like the series against Minnesota. It’s like playing against Nebraska.
Cyclones fans might not like this, but it’s just like Iowa State. At least in recent seasons.
Only in reverse for the Iowa Hawkeyes. While they can’t seem to lose against their above three football rivals, they just can’t seem to beat Wisconsin.
The Badgers have won four in a row and seven of the last 10 games between the rivals going into Saturday’s encounter at Kinnick Stadium (2:30 p.m., FS1).
“It’s big,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “They’ve been the team in the West this last decade for the most part. We won in ‘15, but no one on this team has beaten Wisconsin. So it’s definitely a big game for us. Certainly every week is, but it’s added motivation because none of us have held the Heartland Trophy. That’s been over there for the last few years.”
The Heartland Trophy goes to the winner of this game, and it has been in Madison for about as long as the Cy-Hawk Trophy, the Heroes Trophy and Floyd of Rosedale have been in Iowa City. As Petras mentioned, Wisconsin has been the Big Ten Conference West Division’s standard bearer, a team and program so similar to Iowa in philosophy and playing style.
Only a little better.
“Historically they’ve been a good team,” said Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins. “They always come ready to play. So that’s how we’ve been looking at them, been preparing for them. We know they’re going to come out, and it’s going to be a dog fight. We’ve just got to be ready when the ball is kicked off.”
“Not that we live in the same neighborhood, but we’re a lot more like them maybe than we are an Ohio State,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Let’s see if we can’t try to get to that level. We’ve been there, we went ahead of them for a little while. It’s kind of gone the other way (recently). We’ve had some great games over the years. I do know this from experience: if you’re going to beat them, you have to beat them. It’s not easy. We have to play our absolute best game.”
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The last Iowa win in this series was 10-6 in 2015 at Madison. It’s been Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin since, including that 24-22 victory last season in which Iowa rallied from a 21-6 hole late in the third quarter only to not be able to convert on a tying 2-point attempt after a 75-yard touchdown pass from Nate Stanley to Tyrone Tracy Jr. with just over three minutes to go.
“It’s a big deal,” said linebacker Nick Niemann, one of 22 seniors who could be playing their final game at Kinnick. “It’s a trophy game, obviously one of our big rivals on our side (of the conference). It’s a goal of ours every year to win a trophy game, especially when there are Big Ten West bragging rights on the line ... Not beating them so far, there’s definitely a little something extra there. That’s our goal this week, and we’re going to do everything we can to give ourselves a chance to play well against them.”
“Just go out and win,” said Iowa senior Alaric Jackson, simply.
While Iowa (5-2) has been able to get all of its games in during this COVID-19 pandemic season, Wisconsin (2-2) has not even come close.
The Badgers were a top-10 team nationally after wiping away Illinois, 45-7, in their opener back in late October, but had to shut things down for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak, having games against Nebraska and Purdue canceled.
Wisconsin came back and smoked Michigan, 49-11, in mid-November, but then lost to Northwestern, 17-7. An ensuing game two weeks ago against Minnesota was canceled because of COVID-19 on the Golden Gophers side, and the Badgers struggled again offensively upon a re-return last week, losing to Indiana, 14-6.
All the stops and starts certainly have been an offensive detriment, especially because Wisconsin has been breaking in a freshman quarterback in Graham Mertz. The Badgers have been just short of great defensively, leading the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense, rushing and passing defense.
“They are just overall a sound defense, good guys up front, good guys at linebacker,” Jackson said. “Just a good team defense, for the most part.”
“I have a great admiration for what they do, great respect for what they do,” Ferentz said. “Bottom line is they’re the winningest team on our side of the bracket the last five years. That says it all right there.”
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It was announced Wednesday that Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has been named one of five finalists for the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy. That award is sponsored by the Football Writers Association of America and goes to the national defensive player of the year.
Nixon also has been named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy, the only player in the country to be named to all three award lists. The junior from Kenosha, Wis., leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss and sacks.
The winner of the Nagurski Trophy will be announced Dec. 23.
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