Three weeks ago, Wisconsin finally got themselves back in the win column at Illinois following a disastrous 1-3 start to the year. That same week, Iowa improved to a perfect 6-0 and opened as the No. 2 overall team in the nation after their win over Penn State.
Things can change rapidly in the short, delicate journey of a college football season. Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall saw a first-half masterclass from Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2 BIG) on both sides of the football, as the Badgers rode a 20-0 halftime lead to a 27-7 win over Iowa (6-2, 3-2 BIG).
In a game that many expected to be decided by field position, Wisconsin had an average start of their 49-yard line during their drives in the first half. Compare that to Iowa starting at an average of their 21-yard line throughout the first 30 minutes, and you have the difference in the football game.
Iowa began the football game with six consecutive drives that ended without a first down, as Wisconsin’s defensive line and linebackers dominated in the trenches. Following Graham Mertz completing a few easy throws on Wisconsin’s first drive, the Badger QB put it all together on the second Badger possession. Wisconsin put together an eight-play drive that went 65-yards for a first-quarter touchdown from Mertz to Ferguson off of play- action.
On the drive, Mertz went 8-for-8, finishing with 52 yards and the touchdown. After the Badgers forced a late first-quarter punt, Wisconsin added to their 7-0 lead behind freshman running back Braelon Allen. A 28-yard run from the Fond Du Lac native began the third Badger drive of the afternoon. The drive would end in the second quarter with a 28-yard Collin Larsh field goal that put the Badgers up 10-0.
From there, Iowa mistakes put the game nearly out of reach. Nick Herbig, who finished with a career-high 2.5 sacks, forced a Spencer Petras fumble to set up Wisconsin in the red zone. The Iowa defense, who put together a valiant effort given the positions they were put in, held strong on a Wisconsin fullback dive on fourth-and-goal to give the ball back to their offense with the 10-0 score still in tact.
How did the Hawkeyes respond? Another fumble on a botched handoff to give Wisconsin the ball at the Iowa 1. A Mertz keeper put the Badgers up 17-0 just over halfway through the second quarter.
Leading 20-0 at halftime, the game felt all but over. Iowa’s defense, however, would not let them go away. The Hawkeye defense forced three consecutive Badger three-and-outs to begin the third quarter, and set up their offense with excellent field position on the lone Iowa touchdown drive of the afternoon. A Petras sneak cut the Badger lead to 20-7 with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
After yet another Iowa stop, all of the momentum was with the Hawkeyes. Iowa strung together a few decent runs, and set themselves up with third-and-short at the Wisconsin 41-yard line. Back-to-back gives to fullback Monte Pottebaum proved to be the dagger, as Wisconsin turned the Hawkeyes over on downs to deliver the finishing blow.
After fanastic running by Allen, Mertz finished off the touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard sneak to put the Badgers up 27-7. Allen put together another 100-yard game, finishing with a game-high 20 carries for a game-high 104 yards.
With the win, Wisconsin kept their control over the Big Ten West and set up a photo finish with Minnesota. The Badgers and the Gophers are now the only two teams in the division who control their respective fates. Wisconsin now sits at 5-3 on the year and are winners of four straight games.