In the last iteration of the Heartland Trophy game with divisional hopes on the line, the Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-1) beat the Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 2-1), 15-6. The matchup has never been about style points but Iowa found a groove in the run game behind Leshon Williams, his 174 yards, and 2nd quarter touchdown. Playing from ahead continually forced the Badgers to make plays on both sides of the ball.
Iowa got off to an inauspicious start with a productive but non-scoring drive resulted in one of 10 Tory Taylor punts pinned Wisconsin Badgers at the 4. But the Badgers quickly flexed their Air Raid muscles by moving into Iowa territory after three plays and two Tanner Mordecai passes for 54 yards. Wisky converted one fourth down before lining up for a slow-developing run at Iowa’s 11 on 4th and 1. Cooper DeJean got the stop.
The Hawks’ second drive featured more sand in the gears of Iowa’s low-flying offense with Erick All going down after his second catch on a tackle right around his knee. Iowa was able to continue on, with Seth Anderson making hay on a 16-yard run to get the Hawks into Badger territory. Iowa’s drive stalled with a 4th & 3 end around from Nico Ragaini which was genuinely head-scratching.
The two teams combined for -2 yards on their next 9 plays. A Kaleb Johnson 9-yard run set Iowa up for 3rd & 2 and Leshon Williams to bust one:
LESHON WILLIAMS 82 YARDS TO THE HOUSE! pic.twitter.com/vzBFKKWaLn— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) October 14, 2023
Does Iowa have a run game? It sure seems like it!
After that nice respite from punting, the two teams strung together nine drives which featured just two first downs. There were some opportunities for Iowa not to be as bad as they were (why’s Brian passing on third down of the second-to-last possession where Iowa is DYING to get to halftime).
But, Iowa did well throughout those drives, though, as the time of possession lead was 18:30-11:30 at half. Also of note, starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai went out for Wisconsin while Braelon Allen was marked as questionable midway through the 2nd quarter but continued to play.
The halftime adjustment for Wisconsin was, essentially, to take what Iowa was giving them. In their first two drives, they drove down the field behind the injured Allen and notched a couple field goals. He amassed 60 yards on 10 touches as the Badgers closed the gap and captured momentum.
The game nearly went off the rails as Iowa was in the midst of their sixth straight three-and-out and a Deacon Hill pass was batted in the air and snagged by a Badger lineman. It was initally discussed as an interception with Wisconsin taking over deep in Iowa territory. The refs conversed and eventually ruled it an incompletion as Mason Richman knocked the ball out of their hands. The call was confirmed on replay. Disaster avoided.
Tory Taylor flipped fields for Iowa and the defense forced their own three-and-out. The Hawks rode five straight Williams carries into Drew Stevens range which gave the Hawks a 10-6 lead and some breathing room. Adding to it was a Badgers holding which started their drive at the 7. Yahya Black and Sebastian Castro - two guys who were playing out of their MINDS this game - combined for the safety two plays later.
Iowa continued to do what they were doing. Wisconsin struggled to move the ball, eventually fumbling in Iowa territory. Iowa ran it four more times to close out a fourth quarter where they rushed it 15 straight plays. The last near catastrophe (fumbled snap) resulted in a final Stevens FG to put the game out of reach at 15-6 with 1:55 remaining.
The game closed on a Sebastian Castro interception.
As mentioned above, this series has never been defined by style points and certainly not many were gained here. But positives are definitely there for the taking. The Hawks finished with 200 yards rushing, which includes sacks. It was their second game of the season matching that mark and fourth game over 100. Those are the bones for a solid offense in the Brian Ferentz era.
It’s also interesting to look at it opposite what is unfolding in Wisconsin. They’re a team with a smidge of an identity crisis (I thought Iowa won the game in the trenches by wide margins on both sides of the ball). It may benefit them in the new normal of divisionless Big Ten football involving West Coast teams but it’s put them behind in the divisional landscape, which is all that matters now. The West is Iowa’s to lose.
Also, if I’m being honest: that was actually kind of a FUN game to watch, which was the first time I can really say that all season during live action. The big play put Iowa ahead and they walked the tight rope like they always do. Naturally, it helped to have zero expectations of a win or Iowa banking points in the quest for 325, but it felt fun.
It’s also really fun to see a coach face the inevitability of Kirk Ferentz for the first time. Welcome to the club, Luke Fickell.