IOWA CITY — Iowa beat Northern Iowa in football Saturday night, 38-14. Hey, that also was the score of the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last November, a game that will be recalled a time or two in Iowa’s football complex this week.
In both games, 38-14 doesn’t illustrate how lopsided they were.
After their team thoroughly handled the Panthers, even the most cautious Hawkeye fan may have wondered the following: Is a changing of the guard about to occur in the Big Ten West?
Was all the preseason buzz for the Badgers a bit too much even with their great three-year pedigree under Paul Chryst? Have we shortchanged Iowa’s potential?
Those questions will be answered to a large degree Saturday night when the West champs of the last two years come to a place where Michigan and Ohio State have lost in that same time period.
While the Hawkeyes have taken care of business and then some in their three nonconference games, Wisconsin lost luster when it was beaten by BYU in Madison Saturday, 24-21.
I listened to the second half of Wisconsin’s radio broadcast while driving from Ames to Iowa City Saturday. I read what a Salt Lake City sports columnist wrote. I saw comments from Badger fans on Twitter. The sentiment was unanimous. BYU, a 23-point underdog, matched and topped Wisconsin’s famed physicality.
BYU Coach Kalani Sitake gave the game ball to his strength and conditioning staff and the team’s nutritionists. After a game against Wisconsin. In Madison. Wow.
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Wisconsin now must jump into the fire of facing Iowa’s primed fans in prime-time, and more importantly, its defense that’s ranked in the top three nationally in total defense, rushing defense and quarterback sacks.
All week, the Hawkeyes will be reminded of the 38-14 of last Nov. 11, not the 38-14 they posted against UNI. Feeling puffy this week is out of the question. Instead of basking in compliments, well, here’s what Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said Saturday:
“Obviously, the way (Wisconsin) beat us last year, I don’t think that sits well with anyone on this team. We’re all competitors. We want to right what was wrong last year.”
What was wrong was everything other than Josh Jackson returning two interceptions of Alex Hornibrook passes for touchdowns. Iowa had five first downs and 66 yards. The defense wasn’t much better, allowing 247 rushing yards.
It was an embarrassment, and it came seven days after Iowa’s 55-24 dissection of Ohio State in Kinnick.
“We just didn’t come out and play consistent,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said Saturday night. “That’s one thing we preached all offseason from January till now. We were just riding a roller coaster at that point. That’s something that we don’t want to do this season.
“We’ve put three weeks of good practices together and we want to keep building on it and try to stay on an upward slope.”
All Wisconsin did Saturday, meanwhile, was add to doubts about the West’s strength. Northwestern and Nebraska also lost home games Saturday (for the second-straight week) as favorites, while Purdue also fell at home and Illinois lost to South Florida in Chicago.
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It may be nuts to call their first conference contest of the season something that will establish the clear-cut favorite to win the West with eight league games apiece to come afterward, but good luck arguing Wisconsin-Iowa isn’t just that.
Hawkeye defensive end A.J. Epenesa, the Big Ten’s leader in quarterback sacks, paid Wisconsin’s offensive line a lot of praise Saturday night, saying “Those guys move you off the ball.”
But then he added “I have no doubt we can hold our own against those guys. We’ve just got to get back to the grindstone and get ready.”
Saturday’s game is a big grindstone for both teams. If the Hawkeyes break that rock, they’ll clear a path for some big possibilities.
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