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Lucas' Last Word: Defense holds for second-half scoring spark


Nov. 2, 2013


After turning off the microphone from his work with the Badger Sports Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers his take on the Badgers' 28-9 win over Iowa.

Poor field position, a strong northwest wind and an aggressive Iowa front seven conspired against a struggling Wisconsin offense that failed to pick up a first down in the first quarter.

James White and Melvin Gordon managed just 14 yards on their first seven carries combined. Moreover, the Badgers had only 42 total yards on their first 19 plays, spanning five possessions.

But an inspired UW defense held Iowa to a couple of field goals during that span even though the Hawkeyes started drives on the Wisconsin 49, 39 and 41 and on their own 44 and 30.

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The Badgers finally generated some momentum on offense with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. Up until then, the UW's longest run had been for 8 yards.

On first down, Gordon picked up 13. Two plays later, James White gained 11. That set the early tempo for the series. Still, it came down to a third-and-7 from the Iowa 44.

On the previous play, quarterback Joel Stave had felt pressure and scrambled for 4 yards. It appeared if Stave had shown more patience in the pocket, he had at least one receiver breaking open.

Maybe he made a mental note to trust his protection.

When Stave dropped back on that third down, he knew that tight end Jacob Pedersen was running a choice route, that is, he had his choice between a corner route and a post.

Pedersen saw that Iowa cornerback Desmond King had outside leverage, so he ran the post knowing that the free safety Tanner Miller was not in a position to make a play on the pass.

Thanks to his O-line, Stave had plenty of time to find Pedersen and delivered a strike. King tried desperately to make up for lost ground but bounced off Pedersen, who scored with 1:49 left in the half.

Despite a huge territorial advantage, Iowa trailed, 7-6 -- marking the first time this season that the Hawkeyes didn't have the lead at halftime. Pedersen's touchdown silenced the Kinnick crowd.

With or without the lead, the numbers definitely favored the Badgers rallying against Iowa.

Not only have the Hawks had been outscored 126-75 in the second half this year but the Badgers have dominated opponents in the third quarter (65-13) and fourth (68-28).

It would be a continuing trend. On Saturday, the Badgers won the second half, 21-3.

James White, the leading active career rusher and touchdown leader in the Football Bowl Subdivision, finally had a "stand-alone" 100-yard rushing game -- 47 games into his UW career.

Each of White's previous 100-yard games, all 13 of them, had come in games in which the Badgers have boosted multiple 100-yard rushers. Wisconsin had won all of them, too.

It was no different Saturday as White rushed 19 times for 132 yards and the Badgers won, 28-9. But it was different in that White's tag-team partner, Melvin Gordon, was "held" to 62 yards.

On one hand, it speaks to the UW's tailback riches that White had to wait so long to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It also speaks to White's unselfishness in sharing carries.

The Wisconsin program has been pretty unique that way by developing and featuring team-first running backs who are more worried about the bottom line -- winning -- than their own stat line.

Nobody in college football has been more productive than Badgers at the tailback position; nobody has been more selfless than White who has 3,375 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns.

Inside linebacker Marcus Trotter practiced all week like he was going to be the starter -- standard operating procedure -- not knowing for sure whether Chris Borland would be able to play.

Borland tested his injured hamstring prior to the game and couldn't go.

That left it up to Trotter, who was again ready when called upon and finished with a team-high nine tackles, none bigger than the one he assisted on in the third quarter.

Trailing 7-6, the Hawkeyes had a fourth-and-1 on the UW 35 and gambled that 230-pound Mark Weisman, a converted fullback, could pick it up -- like he had done earlier in the second quarter.

Weisman, though, was tackled for a 1-yard loss by Brendan Kelly and Trotter.

In the fourth quarter, Trotter pressured Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, whose hurried pass deflected off one of his offensive lineman and was intercepted by UW defensive lineman Pat Muldoon.

While he's not a threat to Sam Dekker, Muldoon definitely showed some hops.

Ethan Armstrong has to get strong consideration for Defensive Player of the Game, too.

Armstrong delivered an impassioned pregame speech to his teammates -- exhorting them to bond and rally in the absence of Borland and Tyler Dippel, who was dealing with a family issue.

He then went out and had seven tackles and one quarterback hurry which resulted in a pick.

Fighting through Weisman's block, Armstrong got in the face of Jake Rudock, who threw a blind pass into double coverage that was intercepted by Darius Hillary. Rudock was also injured on the play.

The Badgers immediately converted the turnover into a Stave-to-Jared Abbrederis touchdown pass. Abbrederis, in turn, was injured and had to leave the game. It was that kind of day.

You may not be able to win a game in the first quarter. But you can sure lose a game in the first quarter. Wisconsin's defense was the difference in the first and second periods.

That defense made sure the Hawkeyes squandered excellent field position and scored only six points.

In the end, the Badgers had more playmakers and more heart in overcoming so many injuries, which is why they brought home the Heartland Trophy.

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