Cleanup time: No. 5 Wisconsin’s defense wrecks another foe
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two fumble recoveries. Two quarterback hurries. One sack.
Wisconsin outside linebacker Leon Jacobs was a one-man wrecking crew against Iowa.
He still had lots of help.
The Badgers’ defense stood firm after another game in which the offense got bogged down by mistakes. Two of the four turnovers against Iowa were returned for touchdowns, but the stingy D shut down the Hawkeyes after the other two miscues.
And in every other situation, too.
Quite simply, the defense dominated Iowa — the same Iowa team that had overpowered Ohio State the previous week.
“I thought today was our first game where we really played well from start to finish,” Jacobs said Saturday after the 38-14 victory over the Hawkeyes.
That’s pretty impressive given that the Badgers (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP) were already one of the top defenses in the country. They moved up one spot to No. 5 in the AP poll released Sunday. The Badgers face No. 19 Michigan at Camp Randall next week.
Wisconsin is 10-0 for the first time in school history, and the victory wrapped up the West Division and a berth in the conference title game.
Yet the offense remains a work in progress.
Three of Wisconsin’s first six possessions against Iowa ended with turnovers, as did the Badgers’ first possession of the second half. Three other drives ended with three-and-outs. The offense put the game away in the second half after turning two Iowa turnovers into touchdowns.
No frustration. No finger pointing.
“We’ve just got to keep getting them the ball back, and trying to shorten the field for them is huge as well,” said linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had an interception. “Our only job is to get them the ball as many times as we can. We know they’re going to get things rolling and they did it toward the end.”
It has been a familiar script all season. Eventually, a running game spearheaded by Big Ten-leading rusher Jonathan Taylor gets going. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook shakes off the interceptions and gets the ball to his playmaking receivers and tight ends.
“When something bad happens, our guys love rising to the challenge. We all look at each other, we’re not angry at the offense, we’re not angry at each other or the situation,” safety Joe Ferguson said. “We’re just ready to see what we’re made of.”
The defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage in what historically has been a physical tussle between the two schools. Iowa’s talented tight ends were shut down. The secondary blanketed the wideouts.
Balls were jarred loose after receptions. Other times, Iowa receivers dropped balls after taking contact. The running game was held to 25 yards on 26 carries.
“These guys were playing at a real high level early on and we weren’t able to match that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
An active linebacking corps looked like it could shut down the Hawkeyes on its own. Jacobs’ heady play in scooping up a fumble after a bad snap for a 21-yard return for a score showed that the defense had smarts to match its physical play.
Jacobs had both knees on the ground as the ball squirted out of a scrum in his direction. Instead of pouncing immediately on the loose ball, Jacobs pushed himself off the ground just enough so he wouldn’t be considered down while taking possession, then ran to the end zone.
“Incredible,” Ferguson said. “He’s just a ‘manimal’ out there, throwing dudes off of him and making plays.”