Wisconsin’s players were still in their victorious locker room at Indiana when they began talking about their next foe.
The discussion—and anticipation—began long before the players learned that Iowa had dismantled then-No. 3 Ohio State, 55-24, in Iowa City.
“They’re going to grab our attention,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “It didn’t all of a sudden become, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know that was in them,’ when you saw that.
“This group knows when you get to this week it’s a big week.”
The 91st meeting between the border rivals, set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, is significant for both teams.
UW (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) must keep winning to remain in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. A victory over Iowa (6-3, 3-3) also will give UW at least a share of the Big Ten West Division title and a berth in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
Iowa, which lost to Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern by a combined 16 points, is seeking its third consecutive victory.
The Hawkeyes played like title contenders against Ohio State, rolling up 243 rushing yards, 487 total yards and intercepting four passes.
“We did a good job in the basic areas that you have to to win,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Turnover-takeaway margin was good obviously. I thought we blocked for the first time like you need to if you’re going to be on the varsity, and then defensively it was a rocky beginning for us against a really explosive team, but we settled down and finished that off.
“I think the biggest thing is our guys finished the fight. Just really proud of them.”
UW’s players expect another fight Saturday.
“Every snap you’re going to hear collisions,” UW linebacker T.J. Edwards said, grinning. “I think that is the old-style Big Ten football that you love. It’s always a battle to the end.
“You can say we’re more than excited.”
UW’s players weren’t surprised that Iowa upset Ohio State. Only the margin of victory caught them off-guard.
“I think that is the cool part about Big Ten football,” Edwards said. “Any given Saturday you don’t know who is going to win. It is the best team on the field that day. I thought Iowa played a great game.”
That excitement was palpable when talking this week to the UW players. They respect Iowa’s players and program and appreciate that the Hawkeyes feature a punishing style.
“That’s exciting that they are playing well and we play them next,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “I was really excited to see that. We want their best. It’s going to be a physical fight.”
Iowa was the more physical team in 2015. The Hawkeyes limited UW to 86 rushing yards and forced four turnovers in a 10-6 victory in Madison.
UW won the physical battle last season as Corey Clement rushed 35 times for 134 yards and a touchdown in a 17-9 victory in Iowa City.
“They’re physical,” UW left tackle Michael Deiter said. “That is the staple of this game. It is super physical.”