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Badger Bits: Defense stars as Wisconsin retains Heartland Trophy

Nov. 2, 2013

UW Athletic Communications

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Wisconsin’s defense stood strong Saturday in Iowa City, helping the 22nd-ranked Badgers overcome a slow start on offense and retain the Heartland Trophy with a 28-9 road win over Iowa.

Playing without their leader, senior LB Chris Borland, the Badgers played one of their finest defensive games of the season, holding the Hawkeyes without a touchdown for the first time this season.

Iowa routinely started with great field position during the first half and had two red zone opportunities, but the Wisconsin defense stood strong each time to force a field goal and keep the Badgers in the game in the early going. 

Wisconsin didn’t miss a beat without Borland thanks to the stellar play of junior LB Marcus Trotter. Trotter stepped in and registered a team-high nine tackles, including a tackle for loss, to help the Badgers’ defense shut down Mark Weisman and the powerful Hawkeyes’ rushing attack. Wisconsin limited Iowa to just 115 yards on the ground, its second-lowest total of the season.

“Marcus (Trotter) came in and did a great job,” UW head coach Gary Andersen said. “He has lived in the moment and prepared well for this position and he was ready for today.” 

The defense’s strong play helped jump-start what was a dormant Badgers offense. Wisconsin scored 14 points off a pair of interceptions -- one by sophomore CB Darius Hillary and the other by senior DE Pat Muldoon -- which helped put the game out of reach for the Hawkeyes.

“The turnovers were huge for us,” Andersen said.

After an erratic start, including an early interception, Badgers sophomore QB Joel Stave rebounded and made a pair of big plays through the air to ignite the Wisconsin offense. 

After the Badgers gained just 42 yards on their first five drives and trailed 6-0, Stave connected with senior TE Jacob Pedersen for a 44-yard touchdown pass that gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game -- a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“We made some plays on that drive in the last part of the first half that was big for us,” Andersen said. “We got more yards on that series of plays than the entire half. That gave us more momentum going into the second half.”

Later, in the third quarter after Hilary’s interception, Stave hit senior WR Jared Abbrederis for a 20-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winning score.

Stave now has 31 career touchdown passes, 20 of which have gone for 30 yards or more.

Wisconsin didn’t have the type of big game on the ground that fans are accustomed to, but senior RB James White stepped up when needed in the fourth quarter to close out the win.

White rushed for 85 of his game-high 132 yards and both of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter to ensure that the Heartland Trophy would come back to Madison.

It was White’s 14th career 100-yard rushing performance and the first time he has been the Badgers’ lone back to reach the century mark. In each of White’s previous 13 100-yard games Wisconsin has had at least two rushers hit the mark. 

White also extended his career rushing yardage to 3,375 and scored his 41st career rushing touchdown. Both marks lead all active FBS players.

The Badgers’ win is its biggest in Iowa City since a 31-0 triumph in 1998 and it ensured that the Heartland Trophy will stay in Madison for the second-straight meeting.

Wisconsin improved to 43-42-2 all-time against the Hawkeyes and is now 4-4 versus Iowa since the introduction of the Heartland Trophy in 2004. Saturday was the first time the Badgers have won back-to-back games at Kinnick Stadium since prevailing in the 1998 and 2000 seasons.

After not meeting since 2010 prior to Saturday, the Wisconsin-Iowa series will resume on a yearly basis next season when both teams become members of the Big Ten West Division as part of the conference’s realignment.

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