Wisconsin Shows No Quit In Crunch Time

Wisconsin Shows No Quit In Crunch Time

Football

Wisconsin Shows No Quit In Crunch Time

As Wisconsin senior linebacker T.J. Edwards helped carry the heavy bronzed bull back to the visitor’s locker room at Kinnick Stadium, there was a sense of relief draped over his face.

No longer was Edwards or anybody else in that locker room thinking about what happened the week before. All that the Wisconsin players, and likely the fans were celebrating was that the Badgers showed the steely resolve that good teams are made of.

“We just fought hard to the whistle,” Edwards said outside the locker room, which featured a loud group celebrating a 28-17 win over Iowa Saturday night, retaining the Heartland Trophy for another season. “Kind of showed what kind of team we are this year.”

The questions of just how good No.18 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) would be was thrown into serious doubt after a shocking 24-21 home loss to unranked BYU. UW’s defense was leaky, the offense was without rhythm and the special teams made critical gaffes that proved costly, mainly putting any appearance in the College Football Playoff or a national title game on the back burner.

On the road in a hostile environment, the script started to flip back to what was expected preseason. UW’s defense still gave up eight players of at least 18 yards and committed three pass interference penalties. However, UW held on its own 5-yard line when the Hawkeyes (3-0, 0-1) tried a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-short on their opening series, Ryan Connelly delivered a key tackle for loss on his own 6-yard line to force a field goal in the third quarter and kept Iowa’s offense scoreless on the final four drives of the game.

Those stops – as well as Wisconsin’s punt coverage team recovering two fumbles – made giving up 404 yards of total offense survivable.

“Every time we were down, the units coming off (the field) were picking up the other guys,” Edwards said. “We let the offense know they’re going to be back out there and they’re going to get one, and they’re letting us know that you get us the ball back we’re going to get one.”

Wisconsin’s offense – mostly stuck in neutral against Iowa’s front through three quarters – delivered on that promise, finally finding something with its season hanging in the balance. Marching 88 yards in 10 plays on the game-deciding drive, quarterback Alex Hornibrook drilled a throw into the arms of A.J. Taylor for the winning 17-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left, stunning the capacity crowd.

Talk about calm under pressure, as the Badgers out-gained Iowa, 176-72, in the final 15 minutes.

“We anticipated this kind of effort from them,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “What we saw last week was certainly uncharacteristic, when you think about how many football games they have won over the last five years. They came ready to go … We squandered a couple opportunities on that front and ended up paying for that at the end.”

The win certainly had to feel good – and validating – for Hornibrook. Coming into the season with such high expectations after his sophomore season ended with an Orange Bowl MVP award, he delivered an uneven performance in his first real test of the season against BYU, including an underthrown interception that changed the game’s complexion. No such problem a week later.

The scoring pass to Taylor was Hornibrook’s third touchdown of the game and saw him go a perfect 5-for-5 for 67 yards in marching his offense down the field. It was easily the highlight on a night where there were other throws to choose from. On UW’s 11-play, 95-yard drive that opened the score, Hornibrook hit tight end Jake Ferguson for a touchdown off play-action but it was the 33-yard pass to Alec Ingold on third-and-2 over coverage that set up the score. The other key moment being a 12-yard touchdown throw to Danny Davis on third-and-goal following an Iowa turnover, giving UW a 14-10 lead late in the third quarter.

Hornibrook finished 17 of 22 passing for 205 yards, and his three TDs were a season high.

“Like I keep telling everybody, he’s got such great poise,” tailback Jonathan Taylor told reporters of Hornibrook. “When things are tough and all that, he keeps a calm head and just plays football, and he keeps all of us just playing football. … It doesn’t affect him at all. I think that kind of drives us.”

Getting a chance to reassess on the upcoming bye week, the Badgers know they still control their own fate to get back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game. With the exception of themselves, every Big Ten West Division team that played Saturday lost, including Nebraska – the Badgers’ next opponent – dropping its first three games to start a season for the first time since 1945.

All of that would have been moot if the Badgers hadn’t found the resolve to validate what kind of team they expect to be.

“The season is made up of moments,” head coach Paul Christ said. “Regardless of what happened (last week), it’s hard to come down here and play a good team. I’m proud of how they played. It was far from perfect, yet it was a good response. This team means something to each and every one of the guys in the locker room. They put it out there for the team.”

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