(Sports Network) Fresh off a huge win over the top-ranked team in the land, the 10th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers hit the road for another tough game as they take on the 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
The game between these two long-time rivals is played for the Heartland Trophy, which was established in 2004. Iowa, which clings to a narrow 42-41-2 lead in the all-time series, has won four of the six previous trophy games. The Hawkeyes topped the Badgers in Madison last season, 20-10.
Wisconsin disposed of Ohio State last week in Madison, 31-18, notching its first win over the No. 1 team in the country since beating top-ranked Michigan back in 1981. As a result, the Badgers won for the second consecutive week and for the sixth time in seven games this season.
Coach Bret Bielema, while obviously pleased with the outcome of last week's game, knows Iowa presents another huge challenge, "As much as we enjoyed Saturday, and I'm sure guys are still getting pats on the back as they go through their first day of class back, have to shift our focus immediately to Iowa, a very talented football team who is playing very, very well. [They] came off a bye week, went up and handled their business at Michigan. It's a trophy game for us, one of two that exist on our schedule, and one that's very important to our kids. So it's a tremendous challenge."
The Hawkeyes have won their last three games, two of which came in conference against Penn State and Michigan, since suffering their lone setback -- a 34-27 decision at Arizona in mid-September.
Iowa is currently one of three Big Ten teams with a perfect league ledger, and last week's 38-28 win at Michigan was its first in the 'Big House' since 2002, a fact that wasn't lost on head coach Kirk Ferentz, "Winning on the road is difficult anywhere. Winning on the road in this league is really difficult."
Wisconsin's John Clay, who has rushed for 796 yards and 11 TDs this season, became the first running back in 29 games to rush for 100 yards against Ohio State, turning in 104 yards and two TDs to power the Badgers to their upset win last week. James White was equally effective out of the backfield, tallying 75 yards on 17 carries, while QB Scott Tolzien was highly efficient in completing 13-of-16 passes for 152 yards, hitting WR Nick Toon six times for 72 yards.
Blake Sorensen led the UW defense last week with 10 tackles and an INT, and the Badgers as a team sacked Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor three times, with a pair credited to J.J. Watt. Sorensen and Culme St. Jean currently rank first on the team in total tackles with 40, while Watt is close behind with 34. His 11.5 TFLs are nearly twice as many as his closest teammate.
Wisconsin is giving up just 13.2 ppg, with foes averaging a mere 83.8 ypg on the ground and 205 ypg through the air.
Coach Bielema knows his guys will have to be at their very best once again this week as they head to Iowa City, "I graduated from Iowa. They treat me very badly I know when I go down there. So it's a hostile environment. They're right on top of you."
The coach continued, "I think our kids will embrace the challenge that they have, but we got to have crowd noise in there during the course of the week this week when we're practicing. We have to explain to them and make them understand how that noise has got to make them play harder, play longer, play faster."
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos became Iowa's all-time receiving yardage leader and RB Adam Robinson carried the ball 31 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win at Michigan. Johnson-Koulianos hauled in four passes for 70 yards and three TDs, as QB Ricky Stanzi completed 17-of-24 passes for 248 yards and the three scores, and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week as a result.
Stanzi is 23-5 as Iowa's starting signal-caller, and he has at least one TD pass in 15 straight games.
Iowa, which averages 34.3 points and 419.2 total yards per contest this season, was outgained by the Wolverines last week, 522-383, but the Hawkeyes converted 7-of-13 third-down opportunities and did not commit a turnover. Conversely, Michigan suffered four giveaways (three INTs, one fumble) and was flagged eight times for a loss of 66 yards. The Hawkeyes ran 26 fewer offensive plays than did the Wolverines, but averaged 6.4 yards per play compared to 6.1 ypp for the home team.
Jeremiha Hunter and Troy Johnson logged 13 tackles apiece for the Iowa defense, which allowed just seven points through the first three quarters but yielded 21 in the final frame to give the Wolverines hope.
Johnson-Koulianos knows the importance of each and every game, particularly late in the season, "Every week we face one team and we play with a chip on our shoulder like it's the last game of the year," he said. "Late October and November is when it gets fun. Every game is more important than the last."
This game has all the makings of another classic as both teams are vying for a shot at the Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes have the home field advantage, but the Badgers can ill-afford another loss. Give Iowa the edge, but this game really could go either way.