IOWA CITY, Iowa - Wisconsin has owned Iowa for the last decade. The Badgers beat their rivals four times in a row and in seven of eight meetings dating back to 2009 coming into Saturday's meeting at Kinnick Stadium.
Two programs rooted in an identity of toughness and flying snot, Wisconsin had been executing better, particularly on defense. The Hawkeyes averaged 14.4 points per game during the last five installments of this series.
The Badgers played the role of bully, taking Iowa's lunch money year after year, a 10-6 street fight won by the Hawkeyes in '15 not withstanding. Special teams' snafus, historically awful offensive performances and wilting under pressure characterized Iowa's appearances on the playground.
It stood up for itself Saturday and proved to be the tougher team. It knocked down the Badgers and didn't let them up. The Hawkeyes gorged themselves in a 28-7 victory.
After losing its first two games by a total of five points, Iowa has figured it out. It leaned heavily on a dominant defense and special teams while first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras managed the offense and limited turnovers during six wins in a row.
The defense's dominance can't be overstated. Four starters off of last year's unit are on NFL rosters this fall. This D is arguably better than '19. That's impressive.
Tackle Daviyon Nixon has become a marked man throughout the season with his disruptive play. Recently that has freed up senior end Chauncey Golston, who was drawing extra attention earlier this fall. Golston wrecked the Badgers with a team-high nine tackles (four solos), a drive-killing sack, a quarterback hurry and a tackle for loss.
Linebacker Nick Niemann (eight tackles) continued his stellar senior season. Iowa swarmed to the football with 11 different defenders recording at least three tackles.
A snowy, blustery day wasn't ideal for special teams, and the Hawkeyes experienced their worst day in that phase with Charlie Jones muffing a punt return and punter Tory Taylor showing he's mortal. Both guys did contribute in positive ways, however, as did all-American kicker Keith Duncan, who nailed two first-half field goals, the only points for either team before the intermission.
Like last week at Illinois, Petras came out colder than the weather Saturday. And like the outing in Champaign, the first-year starter from California calmed down and delivered. He finished the Wisconsin game completing 14 of 25 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.
Petras joined Northwestern's Peyton Ramsey as the only signal caller to throw for more than 200 yards against the Badgers' stingy defense this season. First-year starter Graham Mertz of Wisconsin completed 20 of 38 passes for 169 yards with no scores and a pick against the Hawkeyes. He was clearly outplayed by Petras.
Senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught seven passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 53-yarder after which he hurt himself flipping into the end zone. Running back Tyler Goodson's 106 rushing yards included a game-clinching, 80-yard sprint to pay-dirt.
Iowa looked like it was better than the Badgers throughout this fall and left no doubt about it on Saturday. Iowa secured the lone traveling trophy not in its facility before the game.
The only downer was the realization that knocking off Wisconsin didn't result in a Big Ten West Division championship. That drought reached five years with Northwestern capturing the crown for a second time in three seasons.
However, despite missing out on a ring, these Hawkeyes rebounded from an 0-2 start and a tumultuous offseason to win six in a row amid a global pandemic. That reflected wonderfully on their character and commitment.
"Our players have been great. These guys, they've worked hard. They deserve what they got today. They deserved it," Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Iowa bullied the bully. It had it coming.