No. 10 Wisconsin's challenging October continues Saturday with a road game against archrival Iowa.
The Badgers lost their past two games, both by a touchdown, to then-No. 4 Michigan and to No. 2 Ohio State in overtime, with a bye week sandwiched between those games.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) desperately needs a win to remain in the Big Ten West race. A loss potentially would put the Badgers three games behind front-running Nebraska, which plays host to lowly Purdue this week.
After facing Iowa (5-2, 3-1), Wisconsin returns home the following week for a showdown with No. 8 Nebraska. But first the Badgers must get past the Hawkeyes on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) in Kinnick Stadium.
“It's going to be a fun and intense rivalry game, and I can't wait,” Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton said.
Playing this game on the road isn't necessarily a bad thing for Wisconsin. Strangely, the road team has fared well the past few years.
The Badgers won on each of their past three visits to Iowa City in the evenly matched series (Wisconsin leads 44-43-2) but lost in Madison a year ago.
The Heartland Trophy game between Iowa and Wisconsin is always hard-hitting and usually highly competitive. Last fall, Iowa came away with a 10-6 road win that propelled the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten championship game.
“Going a whole year with an empty trophy case, (without) seeing it in the locker room every day, it kind of makes you angry a little bit,” Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “Especially after that game when it wasn't sitting there in the locker room.
“That's definitely something that we want back, and we'll be doing everything we can to get it back.”
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst doesn't spent much time thinking about the history between the teams.
“Those of us who were a part of it last year, we understand what happened, and yet none that carries over, carries forward,” he said. “We've got a ton of respect for Iowa, and I do certainly for their program, but it's about this Saturday, who's the best team.”
Chryst is more concerned about bouncing back from last week's home loss to Ohio State and getting his team healthy. Wisconsin led 16-6 at halftime but couldn't close the deal.
The Badgers came out of that game banged up. A long list of players are questionable on this week's injury report, including linebacker Vince Biegel, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright, linebacker Zack Baun, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, running back Taiwan Deal and safety Keelon Brookins.
Wisconsin enters the game as a slight favorite over Iowa, which rebounded from stunning home losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern by recording consecutive road wins.
The Hawkeyes' latest victories came against Minnesota and Purdue, though, and so it is difficult to gauge just how much Iowa improved the past two weeks. But it certainly will find out more this week.
“All of us are really feeling better than we did a couple of weeks ago,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That was really a tough defeat (against Northwestern), but I think the guys really learned from it, and the last two weeks we've played better football with more intensity. We've done some things that are paramount to winning.”
After Iowa won a 14-7 slugfest at Minnesota two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes looked good last Saturday. Iowa beat Purdue 49-35 in West Lafayette, Ind., resulting in the firing of Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes bolted to a 35-7 lead and began substituting freely in the second half, allowing Purdue to make the score respectable.
Two areas of concern that Iowa appeared to address are its rushing offense and its run defense. The Hawkeyes ran for an impressive 365 yards against Purdue and held the Boilermakers to 47 yards on the ground.
Those ground yards will be much tougher to come by against the Badgers, whose defense gave Ohio State some problems, particularly in the first half.
The key to Saturday's game for Iowa could be its ability to effectively use its two backs — LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley — to move the ball against the Wisconsin defense and help loosen up the defense for quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions this season but could be without one of his favorite targets, injured tight end George Kittle.
Wadley rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown, and Daniels amassed 150 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue.
“They're both playing the best football of their careers,” Ferentz said. “The two of them have really complemented each other. It's been a good combination.”
On defense, Iowa will be trying to slow down Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who rushed for 164 yards against Ohio State, and Hornibrook. Clement leads the team with 483 rushing yards.
“No question we'll have to be at our best against No. 10-ranked team in the country coming in,” Ferentz said. “It'll be a great environment. The big thing for us right now there is no tomorrow. We'll put all we can into this game. We're going to have to. We're playing a really outstanding opponent.”