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The Morning After: Coop and Score

The bull comes home

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Unlike many Hawkeye fans I don’t have a searing, white hot hatred for the Badgers, not in football anyway. Maybe it’s the shared Hayden Fry DNA in the program or an appreciation of a fellow physical, old school Big Ten identity. It’s hard not to admire the success Wisconsin has sustained for the better part of the last decade-plus, and I’m not too proud to admit there’s a little bit of jealousy thrown in there as well.

I was in college during the mid-late aughts when Iowa had great success against their neighbor to the northeast. It was great fun spoiling Barry Alvarez’s final game as head coach in 2005, seeing Shonn Green run roughshod over them in 2008, or beating them out for the conference championship in 2004. Times were good in those days.

Then 2010 happened and the series turned on its head. Wisconsin would go on to win three straight conference titles and sustain great success in the millennium’s second decade. Iowa would be up and down in the same time frame, but the Badgers remained a thorn in their side. From 2010 to 2021, the teams played ten times...Iowa won only twice.

Which is why it feels damn good to beat Wisconsin.

Yesterday, the Iowa Hawkeyes topped the Wisconsin Badgers 24-10 in front of a blackout Kinnick crowd and amidst snow flurries in the air. It was maybe the ugliest win of Iowa’s season to date, though not in exactly the same way as, say, SDSU was. Iowa’s first series did not inspire any confidence: Run for loss of 2, run for loss of 3, run for no gain, punt. It seemed early on that the offense we saw against Northwestern and Purdue had finally turned back into the pumpkin in really was.

Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig had three sacks in the first half, one of which led to the fumble setting the Badgers up for their first points of the game. Often it seemed he was in the backfield without even begin touched by the offensive line.

Oh that poor offensive line. Wisconsin did terrible things to them yesterday. Both tackles, Plumb and Richman, got beat repeatedly by Herbig and Co. Interior running lanes were stuffed and pass protection was nonexistent. Petras is well known for immobility, but plenty of responsibility for Wisconsin’s six sacks and twelve TFLs rests squarely on the line’s shoulders. In all, Iowa only gained 146 total yards. Only Iowa could find a way to win a game by 14 and only average 2.1 yards per play. And of course it could only happen against Wisconsin. The reason Iowa won yesterday, and made it look somewhat comfortable, was the Iowa defense and a young fella named DeJean.

It was evident early on that the offense was going to need all the help it could get. The defense saw the Bat signal and came to the rescue. Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz was harassed all game long, and the Iowa D tallied four sacks of their own. Mertz finished the game with 176 yards and two picks. Running back Braelon Allen had 17 carries for only 40 yards. But it was Cooper DeJean who really made a statement. With two minutes to play in the second half and the Hawkeyes holding a 7-3 lead, DeJean read Mertz like a book, picked him off, and sprinted thirty yards for the touchdown.

Besides his defensive duties, DeJean let Hawkeye fans forget about Charlie Jones by having a day returning punts. To go along with his pick-six he very nearly added a punt return for a touchdown, being pushed out of bounds by the punter at the last moment. But the return gave the offense a short field, and the Iowa offense used it well, with Spencer Petras sneaking into the end zone a few plays later. By the end of the game, DeJean boasted 10 total tackles, 82 punt return yards, and a pick six. While the Iowa offense had 146 total yards, DeJean had 114 by himself. It was a phenomenal day for Cooper and he should absolutely be in the running for B1G Defensive Back of the Year if he isn’t already.

Iowa finds itself in the same position it did late last season: right back in the West division race while needing to win out and get a little help along the way. It’s stunning to think they’re in this position given the course of the year but it’s a testament to how players like DeJean, this defense, and special teams — I haven’t even mentioned the punt block that set up Iowa’s first touchdown — have willed it into existence. Who knows what will happen next week or the day after Thanksgiving, but Iowa has won three straight and are now bowl eligible once again. Not only that, but yesterday they did something they’ve now done only three times since 2010.

Damn, it feels good to beat Wisconsin.