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A view from the sidelines

ON WISCONSIN <b>The Hartland Trophy will reside in Madison for the next three years after UW's 31-30 win.</b>
The Hartland Trophy will reside in Madison for the next three years after UW's 31-30 win.

Oct. 23, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- There is no telling what the rest of the season will hold for Wisconsin or Iowa, but Saturday afternoon’s showdown in Iowa City sure had the feeling of a Big Ten title bout.

High drama, an intense atmosphere and the outcome seemingly hinging on every play. That’s what it should be like when two Big Ten heavyweights collide.

The intensity was palpable on the sidelines from the opening possession. With Wisconsin facing 3rd-and-1 at the Iowa 8-yard line, James White took a handoff over left tackle but chose to bounce it outside instead of following the design up field. As it turns out, the play went for a loss of eight yards and resulted in a Philip Welch field goal.

When White returned to the sidelines, the message from running backs coach John Settle was clear… finish the play. It seemed as though the UW coaches thought the first down was there if he had following the design instead of bouncing the run wide and hoping for a home run.

It reminded me of another teaching lesson in White’s young career when he fumbled against San Jose State in Week Two. On that play, the freshman back lost control the football when reaching it across the goal line. At the time, head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that “at Wisconsin, we run the ball into the end zone, we don’t reach it in.”

This became relevant Saturday afternoon on the game’s decisive TD when Montee Ball scored from eight yards out in the game’s final minutes. Ball carried a few tacklers toward paydirt before extending into the end zone for the score. The ball came loose, but only after Ball had penetrated the goal line.

Whether Montee ran it or reached it into the end zone is up to you to debate.

Like many Big Ten games, last season’s Wisconsin-Iowa tilt was decided in the trenches. Wisconsin looked strong early during the 2009 match-up, but watched Iowa dominate both sides of the ball after intermission and pound its way to a 20-10 win at Camp Randall Stadium.

Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Bielema made sure that Wisconsin was the dominator along the line. Never was this more apparent than on his decision to go for it on a fourth-and-one from the Iowa two-yard line midway through the third quarter.

Trailing by three at the time, Wisconsin could have kicked the safe field goal and taken the tie midway through the third quarter. Instead, Bielema made the decision that if UW were to lose, it would do so fighting.

Bielema lined up his workhorse back behind his mammoth offensive line and watched Clay bully in for a two-yard score and a 17-14 lead. The score would flip-flop back and forth several times after that, but the message was clear… UW was not going to give up the trenches without a fight.

The measure of a man is gauged by the depth of his soul.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Every coach preaches it, but few can live it. In the second half at Iowa, Wisconsin lived it.

The Badgers scored three second-half touchdowns against one of the nation’s top defenses, and did so without three of their top offensive weapons. Nick Toon, Lance Kendricks and James White all suffered injuries that forced them to be bystanders in the second half, but watched their replacements come up with big play after big play. Isaac Anderson, Jacob Pederson and Ball each played key roles in UW’s win.

As much as the win says about UW’s depth, it says just as much about the Badgers’ resiliency. Playing without several potent weapons, senior QB Scott Tolzien never looked shaken, leaning on experience, Clay and one of college football’s top offensive lines.

As a Badger fan, you have to feel good about the way Wisconsin’s reserves filled in, but you’re also thankful that the Badgers have a bye week coming up.

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