Men in the Mirror

Oct. 22, 2010


IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the University of Iowa football team stares across the field Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, it will see a Wisconsin Badger program that is essentially a reflection of itself.

And why wouldn’t it be? After all, former head coach and current director of athletics Barry Alvarez and head football coach Bret Bielema are former members of the Hawkeye program. The 42-41-2 margin Iowa holds over Wisconsin in the all-time series is evident of the equality between the two. Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that the programs are “on the same page philosophically.”

That philosophy is tough, hard-nosed defense, a strong running game, and a balanced offensive attack. That sounds pretty familiar to Iowa fans.

“They definitely are similar to us,” said UI senior tight end Allen Reisner. “They like to run the ball on offense, and we like to do the same thing. Defensively, we’re both pretty good teams. They have a good D-line, we have a really good D-line too, so it’s going to be a battle up front.”

With the similarities and past tradition, the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry holds a certain aura. It can be argued the battle for the Heartland Trophy between Iowa and Wisconsin is annually the Hawkeyes’ most impactful rivalry game — more so than even Iowa State or Minnesota. However, with the Big Ten Conference switching to a new alignment starting in 2011, the teams will play each other just four times every decade, rather than annually like what exists in the current format.

“I think they should have tried to keep it,” said Reisner of the rivalry. “Now they’re switching everything up, so I guess you can’t do that. But it’s a trophy game I really thought they should have Wisconsin and Iowa for a lot of years to come.”

The next time Iowa plays Wisconsin will be 2013, meaning the winner of Saturday’s contest gets the Heartland Trophy and bragging rights for an extended stretch. However, that shouldn’t be too different for Iowa, as the Heartland Trophy has been in Iowa’s possession for the past two seasons.

“Keeping trophies at Kinnick is definitely a goal we have and a tradition we want to keep going,” said UI running back Adam Robinson. “I think that adds to the prestige of the game, and makes it more fun. It’s definitely fun to play for trophies, so I am going to miss the games the next two years.”

“They definitely are similar to us. They like to run the ball on offense, and we like to do the same thing. Defensively, we’re both pretty good teams. They have a good D-line, we have a really good D-line too, so it’s going to be a battle up front.”
UI tight end
Allen Reisner

What Robinson will not miss are the hits he will absorb from Wisconsin defenders. The Badger defense will be the toughest to date for the Iowa offense.

Like Iowa, Wisconsin fields a hard-hitting defensive front, including defensive end J.J. Watt, a disruptive force who has 11.5 tackles-for-loss, ranking him 11th in the nation. Wisconsin’s run defense is stout, giving up 114.9 yards per game on the ground, and it has allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season.

“They’re one of the great defenses in the Big Ten right now,” said wide receiver Marvin McNutt. “Their win-loss record shows that. We’re going to make sure that we’re on top of everything we do, because one mistake could be the play that changes the game.”

UI senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi is coming off a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor and he has done a great job with mistake-free play in 2010. The signal-caller has tossed 13 touchdowns against just two picks, good for the third-highest passing efficiency rating in the nation at 180.5. While experience has helped Stanzi put up the numbers, he said experience plays a role in the defensive success of Wisconsin.

“With having a lot of returning starters and guys who have played a lot of football, whether they’ve started or not, that’s the main thing,” said Stanzi. “They have a lot of experience. What they do on defense isn’t necessarily difficult from a scheme standpoint, but they do it so well. That’s the toughest thing, is they’re very aggressive in what they do because they play so confident.”

Ohio State went into last week’s matchup against Wisconsin averaging 43.2 points per game. Wisconsin held the top-ranked Buckeyes to 18 points, and is 29-2 under Bielema when holding opponents to less than 20 points.

Wisconsin’s defense gives up just 18.9 points per game, so it will be essential for Iowa to play a sharp offensive game and not turn the ball over, to make Wisconsin work on defense.

“Just because you know what the coverage is doesn’t mean that routes will be open, because they do a great job of covering guys,” said Stanzi. “They come up and tackle guys in the flats, they just do a tremendous job of playing overall sound defense, and they don’t give up a lot big plays at all.”

If that doesn’t sound like a description of Iowa defense, then what else does?

Saturday will showcase two tough, hard-nosed teams, playing smash-mouth football. The mirror-image programs know what they’re going to get from one another, and it’s just a question of which team will out-grind the other — and come away with the victory.

“It’s going to be another big challenge, they’ve got a lot of good athletes on their defense,” said Robinson. “It’s going to be up to us to how we want to respond to that. We just have to keep pushing and realize that if we stay the course and do what our coaches tell us, good things will happen.”

Those “good things” will likely bring forth a “good win,” giving Iowa the victory over its mirror-image, and keeping the Heartland Trophy in Iowa City for at least the next two seasons.