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Wisconsin football: Grading the Badgers’ 28-17 win at Iowa

The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers keep the Heartland Trophy for the third straight year after bouncing back from a lackluster upset loss last week against BYU. Under the lights of Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night, UW rebounded in defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 28-17 hard fought Big Ten Conference clash.

Last week saw all units perform poorly against the Cougars. With the defense struggling to stop Iowa’s passing game at times, the offense and special teams picked up their play on Saturday.

Here are the unit grades.

Offense: B+

Scoring early, the Badgers had long stretches of inefficiency, punting six of seven drives after their first touchdown.

Despite the challenges, the offense came through big in the end. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 17-of-22 for 205 yards and three touchdowns. For the second straight week, the redshirt junior looked poised in a game-ending two-minute drill, leading Wisconsin on a 10-play, 88-yard drive that burned off nearly five minutes and put the Badgers up for good.

Running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 113 yards. Taiwan Deal looked good in relief of Taylor, averaging seven yards a carry on six attempts. Senior fullback Alec Ingold capped the game, breaking a run with 22 seconds left for a 33-yard touchdown while also adding a 33-yard reception in the first half.

Tight end Jake Ferguson had four receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown. Ferguson was a weapon, redeeming a killer drop early in the fourth quarter by grabbing a critical first down catch on the game-winning drive. Wide receivers Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor caught touchdowns.

Wisconsin came out early with Logan Bruss and Jason Erdmann filling out jumbo sets. Erdmann moved inside to center midway through the third quarter when center Tyler Biadasz went out with injury.

Defense: C+

The defense looked good early with a bend-don’t-break first quarter that saw the Badgers kill off an 11-play, 80-yard Iowa drive with a 4th-and-1 stand at their own five-yard line.

Wisconsin’s young secondary struggled for wide stretches. Quarterback Nate Stanley threw for 229 yards on 12-of-22 passing and two touchdowns. Iowa’s first touchdown, a 20-yard toss to Noah Fant, was set up by a 46-yard catch that burned cornerback Faion Hicks, who also committed pass interference on the play.

Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson pressured the secondary all night, finishing with 125 yards receiving on three receptions.

The Badgers defense performed when it mattered most. Wisconsin held fast as Iowa drove with less than a minute left and redshirt senior inside linebacker T.J. Edwards iced the game, snagging a tipped pass for an interception.

Special Teams: A-

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone made all four extra points. Punter Anthony Lotti averaged 37.1 yards on seven kicks.

The punt unit grabbed two of Wisconsin’s three turnovers. With Iowa gaining momentum late in the second quarter, redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon recovered an Iowa punt return fumble. The unit made another recovery in the third quarter when Iowa’s Shaun Beyer mistakenly stepped on the ball while trying to block, leading to the Badgers second touchdown.

Coaching: A-

Head coach Paul Chryst righted the ship, grabbing a critical victory in a tough road conference game. Wisconsin committed eight penalties, but turnovers were the difference and the Badgers won that battle 3-0.

Even with the offense sputtering for long stretches, Wisconsin still had better rhythm than against BYU. The offensive line looked much improved from last week. The use of jumbo sets and play action were successful early. Wisconsin’s red zone pass calls yielded 21 points.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard dialed up effective pressure at critical moments, though his secondary remains a work in progress.

Overall: B

Saturday’s win puts Wisconsin in poll position in the Big Ten West. Going on the road and getting a win against Iowa is a hard thing to do, particularly coming immediately after a deflating home loss against BYU.

While the defensive line and linebackers tightened up the mistakes of last week, the young secondary is still going through growing pains.

With the Badgers getting an early bye this week, Wisconsin has a chance to tune up before early October showdowns with a desperate Nebraska and No. 19 Michigan.

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