Continuing our look back at the decade that was in Iowa football, celebrating the highs and the lows -- and, hopefully, distracting us from the ongoing disaster that is Iowa basketball. This series looks back at Iowa's results across the entire decade against every Big Ten foe, as well as Iowa State. According to the alphabet, next up are those other trophy rivals -- you know, the ones that can't hire a coach without a UI background.
Iowa vs. Wisconsin in the 00s: 6-4
2002: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 3
2003: Iowa 27, Wisconsin 21
2004: Iowa 30, Wisconsin 7
2005: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10
2008: Iowa 38, Wisconsin 16
2009: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10
2000: Wisconsin 13, Iowa 7
2001: Wisconsin 34, Iowa 28
2006: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 21
2007: Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13
BEST WIN: Iowa 30, Wisconsin 7 (2004)
The Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry occupies a weird position among Iowa's major rivalries. Despite being perhaps the most competitive of Iowa's major rivalries (Iowa holds a 42-41 edge), it features neither the intense localized hatred of Iowa State rivalry nor the colorful history (and kick-ass trophy; the Heartland Trophy is a pale shadow of Floyd) of the Minnesota rivalry. It's still a very significant series, of course -- it could hardly be otherwise when it pits two teams from border states that are so evenly matched and that have the same aspirations. The rivalry is made weirder by the fact that looking at Wisconsin is like looking in the mirror and seeing a cheese-encrusted version of yourself looking back.
After Hayden returned Iowa to prominence in the Big Ten in the early 80s, virtually every other member of the "little eight" in the Big Ten either targeted them or emulated them. Wisconsin decided to do both and figured that the best way to reverse years of abject failure in football was to take a page (and a highly-regarded former assistant coach*) from their neighbors to the southwest. So they rebuilt themselves around stout defense and a hard-nosed running game, voila, success soon followed. Alvarez even managed to one-up his former boss by not just taking the Badgers to three Rose Bowls, but winning all three Rose Bowls, to boot. The similarities between Wisconsin and Iowa became even more pronounced in the Aughts, as Iowa seemed to emphasize the running game even more heavily under Ferentz than they had under Fry (by and large) and both teams began targeting not just similar players, but the exact same players; today probably half of the guys on the rosters of both teams had offers from the other school. And none of this even mentions the fact that the current Badger coach is not only a former Iowa coach and player... but that he has a tiger hawk tattoo on his leg.
Anyway, why this game? To be sure, there were games in the Aughts that contained more in-game excitement and drama or that featured more heart-stopping conclusions (2003, in particular), but this game stands alone for a few reasons: it featured the most significance of any Iowa-Wisco tilt in the Aughts and it was the first time in almost twenty years that Iowa was able to celebrate winning a Big Ten Championship in Kinnick Stadium, in front of the Iowa faithful. (The 2002 title was clinched in front of many thousands of Iowa fans, of course, but it occurred in the sterile confines of Kinnick North.) When it was announced that Ohio State had defeated Michigan earlier in the day, the buzz that went through Kinnick Stadium was incredible -- Iowa was no longer playing for pride, or a bronzed bull, or better bowl positioning... now a share of the conference championship was on the line.
The atmosphere was electric that day and while Drew Tate and the offense started out fairly miserably, the defense held firm (and wound up producing one of their most stifling efforts of the season, holding the Badgers to 186 yards of offense and forcing four turnovers) until the offense came around. Once Tate dug into his bag of magic tricks yet again to spin out of trouble and connect with Clinton Solomon for a 51-yard touchdown pass shortly before halftime that gave Iowa a 14-7 lead, the nervous energy that had carried Iowa fans throughout the half began to turn into celebratory energy. There may have been a half to play, but the way the defense was playing, there was no chance Wisconsin was coming back to take the game. The second half became a formality; all that was left was waiting for the clock to hit 0:00 so that the celebration of a second Big Ten title in four years (this one even more wildly improbable than the first, given the RUNNINGBACKOCALYPSE that struck that season) could officially begin..
Quibble if you must that it was just a co-championship and that Michigan was the real champion because they had bested Iowa on the field earlier in the season. That's all true and Michigan got to go to Pasadena as a reward for that earlier on-field triumph. But rules are rules and we still got a trophy and being able to storm the field that day (and nearly getting trampled along with thousands of other Iowa fans) and cheer myself hoarse as Jim Delany handed a teary-eyed Kirk Ferentz a Big Ten Championship trophy is a memory I've never forgotten. I got to see something that day that no other Iowa fan had been able to see in Kinnick Stadium since 1985 -- and that's pretty goddamn awesome.
* Yes, technically Wisco poached Alvarez from a defensive coordinator spot at Notre Dame, but he was at Iowa before that and, dammit, the story works better that way. Go be pedantic somewhere else, hypothetical reader.
WORST LOSS: Wisconsin 34, Iowa 28 (2001)
Most of the losses in this category in this series have fit into a handful of categories: they occurred in a game that had considerable significance for Iowa, they were just horrifically terrible performances by Iowa, they were upsets in the sense that a (seemingly) better Iowa team lost to an (seemingly) inferior opponent, they were against an opponent that inspires pure revulsion, or some combination thereof. Unfortunately, none of the Wisconsin losses quite fit into those categories (save perhaps the "pure revulsion" slot if you just can't stand the cheeseheads). Unlike, say, the Iowa State series or the just Northwestern series, the better team won almost every single game in this series in the Aughts. Was Wisconsin clearly better than Iowa in 2000, 2001, 2006, and 2007? For the most part... yes.. None of those losses happened in games when the stakes were significant, either. And none of the games were appallingly bad losses that stick in one's memory for years after the fact.
So why the '01 game? You could make cases for any of them, but there's no point in piling on the 3-9 campaign from 2000 and we've picked at the bones of the 2006 and 2007 seasons plenty. Plus, in an odd twist of fate, this game has gone on to acquire a bit of significance after the fact -- it was the epicenter of the McCann v. Banks debate that raged in 2001 (and even moreso retroactively after Brad Banks blew up like a supernova in 2002) and became a reference point in the never-ending "why do our dumb coaches refuse to play the best players" argument (see also: Shonn Greene not playing before 2008 and the Jake Christensen-Ricky Stanzi debate for more recent examples). One side points to the fact that Banks was so brilliant in '02 that he should have gotten more snaps in '01; the other side argues that the mistakes Banks made in that game (and the by now semi-apocryphal statements about Banks knowing only a fraction of the playbook in '01) validate the coaches' decision to bring him along slowly. Who was right? Who was wrong? Who fucking cares -- obsessing over a nine-year old regular season game that ultimately meant nothing is dumb.
PLAYER OF THE RIVALRY: Shonn Greene (Iowa RB, 2005-2008)
Hey, when you have the single-best game by an Iowa RB in the Aughts and put on one hell of a fucking show in the process, you gotta get a little love, right? It was the sort of signature performance that should have vaulted him into the Heisman discussion and placed him squarely in the national consciousness. If only it hadn't been on BTN. If only Iowa hadn't already had three losses. If only it had been against someone better than a Wisconsin team on a four-game losing streak. Alas. None of that changes the fundamental truth of Greene's performance in this game, though -- it was fucking awesome. The trail of wreckage Greene left in his wake in that game? 217 rushing yards, four immaculate touchdown runs, and one completely and utterly emasculated defense. Greene's improved conditioning was displayed in impressive fashion when he turned on the jets in the open field and eluded a pair of Wisconsin defensive backs. His underrated agility and shiftiness was on display on the absurd pinball touchdown run. And his power... well, just ask any of the poor bastards who tried to tackle him how well that went. In a season of incredible consistency, the Wisconsin game represented a stunning high water mark for Greene.
WISCONSIN IN THE AUGHTS
The Aughts were never going to live up to the '90s for the Badgers; Barry Alvarez's deal with the devil wasn't Y2K-compliant. Wisconsin had one of the most stunning rises in college football in the '90s, emerging from a 1-10 season in 1990 to go on to win three Big Ten Championships and six bowl games (including three Rose Bowls, the most wins ever by a Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl in one decade). Good times. The 00s? Not quite so awesome. Oh sure, the bottom never fell out completely -- they only had one losing season and even that was just a run-of-the-mill 5-7 campaign in 2001 -- but they settled into a rut as a generally above-average team that occasionally wound up on the edges of "really good." They won nine or more games six times (once more than Iowa, in fact) and ten or more games three times (once less than Iowa). But they never won a conference championship or played in a BCS bowl. Their timing didn't help their case -- in most years, an 11-1 Big Ten team (like the '06 Badgers) would get an at-larger berth to a BCS game... but not in a year when Ohio State goes 12-0 and Michigan goes 11-1. Oops. And, amusingly, losses to Iowa in 2004, 2005, and 2009 probably kept from getting any sort of serious consideration for at-large consideration.
The last time Bret Bielema was ever spotted running.
The big change for the Badgers in the Aughts was transitioning from Barry Alvarez's round mound of Big Ten excellence to Bret Bielema's (increasingly) round mound of Big Ten meh-ness. The initial transition was smooth, since Alvarez was kind enough to leave Bielema with a well-stocked cupboard of talent and there were no great shifts in offensive or defensive philosophy. There was no more stereotypically Big Ten team than Wisconsin in the Aughts: they had the beefiest linemen, the biggest, ground-churningest runnning backs, and some of the hardest-nosed defenses. (And yet they also seemed to place as many quarterbacks in the NFL in the Aughts as any BXI team except Michigan or Purdue -- go figure.) But there was a steady decline in Bielema's first three years, from 12-1 to 9-4 to 7-6 (that could have been even worse if lowly Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo had fielded a competent kicker), which had the natives growing restless. (Not helping matters? Bielema's vaguely douchey demeanor and oodles of scurrilous rumors about his off-field carousing in Madtown.) But everyone's favorite tiger hawk-branded coach saved his proverbial (and, perhaps, literal) cheese curds with a 10-3 season in 2009; we'll have Bret to knock around for a few more years yet.
- The most memorable aspect of the 2002 game was the decision by the Iowa defense to play "Whack-a-Quarterback" with the Badgers' poor, beleaguered signal callers. Brooks Bollinger? Derek Pagel says "hi." (Although now the hit he delivered would've been a 15-yard penalty.) Jim Sorgi? Colin Cole needs to sit on you, sorry. Come on down, Owen Daniels! (Yes, a future NFL tight end was their #3 QB.)
- As previously noted, the 2003 game was a damn incredible game. Nathan Chandler was dreadful (8/26, 66 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), but fortunately the Wisco QBs weren't much better (collectively, they went 14/31, 194 passing yards, 0 TD, and 3 INT) and after giving up three touchdowns in the first half, the defense turned into an impenetrable brick wall. Nate Kaeding made a huge 50-yard field goal right before halftime to cut into Wisconsin's lead and Razor Ramon again came to Iowa's rescue in a big game, notching a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown on an end-around. But what makes the game really stand out in the old memory banks is the finish, when the Iowa defense manned up and held Wisconsin out of the end zone on four chances from inside the ten-yard line. There was another more celebrated goalline stand for Iowa in the Aughts, but the Wisco one was no less memorable... and it was far more meaningful, since this win helped lock up an Outback Bowl berth for Iowa.
- Along with the incredible memories from the '03 and '04 games, the '05 game had its share, too -- most notably, Iowa spoiling Barry Alvarez's final home game as head coach of the Badgers. The winning script was eerily similar to the '03 and '9 wins in Madison: dig yourselves an early hole, run of 20 (or more) unanswered points, hold on for a win. The win was extra-sweet after the pair of gut-wrenching losses to Michigan and just Northwestern that preceded it. The most impressive aspect of the game was the Iowa defense's mansome effort in the second half, in which they ground the vaunted Badger running game to dust. Sadly, that effort also proved to be fool's gold of a sort; we never saw that unit of Iwebema, King, Kroul, and Mattison look that dominant in the next two years and change.
- The 2006 game highlighted exactly why I never fear Wisconsin games. In the Aughts, Iowa was always competitive with Wisco, as evidenced by the fact that all four Iowa losses in the series were by a touchdown or less. And if there was no blowout in 2006, when Iowa had one of its most inconsistent and frustrating teams of the Aughts and when Wisco had its best team of the Aughts... well, when would Iowa be in the wrong end of a blowout? An Iowa team in the midst of an ugly meltdown took on a Wisco team that would go 12-1... and they were only three points down with ten minutes to play. The biggest problems that day were a defense that couldn't get off the field (Wisco held the ball an absurd 38:48) and an Iowa offense that could never find any rhythm.
- As for the 2007 game... well, that touchdown catch by DJK was pretty swell, wasn't it? Yep.
- Four things to remember about the 2009 game? Amari Spievey making big-time interceptions (and thanks again, Scott Tolzien, for being dumb enough to throw to that side of the field), Tony Moeaki making some huge catches (including one excellent touchdown grab), O'Brien Schofield running amok in the Iowa backfield, and the Iowa defense taking a page out of the just Northwestern playbook and folding John Clay up like an accordion to prevent him for continuing to terrorize the Iowa defense all day.
- Whatcha got?
Note: This is not the end of the Aughts in Review series; I'll be back next week to look at the non-conference foes and bowl games, and I have a few other ideas beyond that. We will find ways to get through this off-season, dammit.