MADISON, Wis. — As Saturday approached at Wisconsin and the injury situation progressed from bad to worse for the Badgers, coaches and players grew only more determined to make a statement against 20th-ranked Iowa.
“We don’t skip a beat,” outside linebacker Garret Dooley said. “No matter who’s in there, the same thing is expected.”
Forget the same thing. This was even better.
No. 8 Wisconsin manhandled the Hawkeyes in a defensively spectacular 38-14 victory at Camp Randall Stadium, issuing a statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee and non-believers who doubt the Badgers’ worthiness among contenders for the coveted top four spots in the weekly rankings.
Could Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) finish unbeaten and still miss the playoff? From the way things looked against the first ranked opponent on the schedule, the Badgers seemingly heard those questions.
In snapping a streak of six straight victories by the visiting team in this rivalry, Wisconsin started a season with 10 consecutive victories for the first time in school history and clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West, punching its ticket to the Dec. 2 conference-title game in Indianapolis.
Iowa (6-4, 3-4) ran just two plays in Wisconsin territory and gained 66 yards, including 25 rushing yards on 26 attempts a week after throttling Ohio State 55-24 in Iowa City.
After Jackson’s first pick-six of 43 yards on the opening drive, Iowa gained 20 yards in the first half on 23 plays. Its yardage total dipped to 14 early in the third quarter before Jackson again struck again with a 52-yard return that cut the Badgers’ lead to 17-14.
Momentum swung back to Wisconsin — courtesy of the defense, of course — as linebacker Leon Jacobs scooped a fumble off the turf after a botched shotgun snap to QB Nathan Stanley. Jacobs raced 21 yards for a touchdown that provided breathing room.
And late in the third quarter, linebacker T.J. Edwards intercepted Stanley to thwart the Hawkeyes’ best drive, which gained 33 yards. Another Stanley fumble recovered by Jacobs ignited the Wisconsin celebration with nearly 11 minutes to play.
“Defenses,” Wisconsin coordinator Jim Leonhard said four days before game, “don’t get weeks off.”
The Badgers apparently didn’t take a minute — let alone a day — to recuperate after a leg injury removed linebacker Chris Orr from the lineup ahead of Saturday. Safety and leading tackler D’Cota Dixon also watched from the sideline after testing an injured hamstring in pregame drills.
Next man up.
The Badgers didn’t skip a beat. Instead, they improved, paced by 157 yards on the ground by star freshman Jonathan Taylor.
It’s onward to face Michigan next week in Madison as the quest continues to silence the playoff doubters.