IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s 2015 football team ran the regular-season table for the first time in program history. Twelve games, 12 victories.
All four rivalry-game trophies – the Cy-Hawk (Iowa State), Floyd of Rosedale (Minnesota), Heartland (Wisconsin) and Heroes Game (Nebraska) - were on display inside the Hansen Performance Center.
Since 2015. Iowa’s record in those rivalry games is a gaudy 18-4. That includes six straight victories against Nebraska and Minnesota, and five in a row against Iowa State. And then there’s that red and white elephant in the room. The Wisconsin Badgers.
Iowa’s 10-6 victory at Camp Randall in 2015 is its only victory in the last eight meetings. That goes back to Wisconsin’s fake punt-fueled 31-30 victory at Kinnick Stadium in 2010. Those eight games have included three different Wisconsin coaches – Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and now Paul Chryst.
It’s been a season of streaks for the Hawkeyes, and ending their losing ways against Wisconsin Saturday at Kinnick Stadium would be the cherry on top of a remarkable reborn season.
Iowa won its fifth straight game, and seventh straight in the series, with a come-from-behind 35-21 triumph at Illinois Saturday.
Earlier this season it beat both Minnesota and Nebraska for a sixth straight time and snapped a six-game losing streak to Penn State.
Indiana, the feel-good story of this untraditional Big Ten football season, snapped a streak of 10 consecutive losses to Wisconsin with a 14-6 victory at Camp Randall on Saturday. Those 10 losses had been by an average of more than 35 points a game.
Iowa will be facing a Wisconsin team that has been inconsistent on offense but tough as nails on defense.
The Badgers have only played four games, losing contests with Nebraska in week two, Purdue in week three and Minnesota in week six because of COVID-19.
Sandwiched around that Minnesota game, the Badgers lost at Northwestern, 17-7, and then to Indiana on Saturday.
Wisconsin scored 45 points against Illinois and 49 at Michigan in its first two games, but a total of just 13 it its two losses. The Badgers had seven drives move inside the Indiana 40, but came away with just two field goals.
“I mean, we’ve had two games now where we didn’t score a lot of points,” Chryst said. “Two games before we scored a lot of points. I don’t know that I’ve got the answer for you right now on that.”
Wisconsin outgained Indiana, 342 yards to 217. It outgained Northwestern, 366 yards to 263.
One reason for those one-sided numbers is Wisconsin’s stout defense. The Badgers have allowed just 49 points, and no more than 17 in any game. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing defense (72.3 yards per game) and passing defense (157 yards).
This will be a real test for an Iowa offense that is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 32.3 points a game. And it will be the biggest test of the season for first-year quarterback Spencer Petras.
The Hawkeyes rallied from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit to win at Illinois, scoring 35 unanswered points.
“We were not even spinning our tires,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said of the slow start. “Our tires weren’t moving. We were stuck and it wasn’t pretty.”
Petras played a significant role in the comeback.
“It was huge,” Ferentz said.
He’s struggled to find a rhythm all season. And the first quarter against Illinois was a step backwards.
“I think we all felt it,” Petras said.
It all changed with a drive, and a play, that reversed momentum. And it was preceded by what could have been a disastrous muffed punt, but Nico Ragaini recovered his own mistake.
Iowa was in a two-touchdown hole when it took over at its own 48 with 9:53 remaining in the second quarter. Six plays later, the Hawkeyes were facing a third-and-12 at the Illinois 42. Petras connected with Tyler Goodson for nine yards. And then on fourth-and-three, he fired a bullet to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for an 11-yard gain and a crucial first down.
It was supposed to be an out route, but the cornerback was playing outside Smith-Marsette. So the senior receiver improvised with what Petras called “a backyard football move,” and Petras found him.
“That was a big turning point, a big play,” Petras said. “Give the credit to him.”
Petras found tight end Sam LaPorta for a 22-yard touchdown on the next play. Petras had been two for five for 29 yards before that crucial series. He was four of five for 46 yards on the touchdown drive.
He completed eight of 13 passes for 113 yards in the second quarter, six of eight passes for 59 yards in the third quarter and both his pass attempts for 19 yards in the fourth.
Petras finished the game completing 18 of 28 attempts for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
“Every day is an education, every game is an education, every minute you play, every series, every possession,” Ferentz said. “And we’re playing with a young quartertback right now. It will really be valuable for him.”
Iowa’s defense also overcame a slow start to impact Saturday’s victory. It will take another good effort by that defense, as well as Petras and the offense, to send the seniors out as winners in their final game at Kinnick on Saturday.
There were 16 seniors on Iowa’s two-deeps for Illinois. Tight end Shaun Beyer, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, right guard Cole Banwart, defensive end Chauncey Golston, right tackle Austin Schulte and linebackers Barrington Wade and Nick Niemann were in the Class of 2016.
Wide receivers Brandon Smith and Smith-Marsette and cornerback Matt Hankins were in the Class of 2017. Placekicker Keith Duncan and defensive tackle Dallas Jacobus arrived as walk-ons. Running back Mekhi Sargent was a junior college transfer. And offensive tackle Coy Cronk, defensive tackle Jack Heflin and defensive end Zach VanValkenburg transferred in from other schools.
“The seniors have really done a good job of giving us leadership,” Ferentz said.