Nov. 4, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- With the knowledge that two of his Wisconsin brothers/teammates would not be playing against Iowa -- linebacker Chris Borland was a scratch because of his hamstring injury and defensive lineman Tyler Dippel was not on the trip because of a serious family matter in California -- Ethan Armstrong felt the urge and urgency to say something in the locker room before Saturday’s kickoff.
“It just kind of hit me to have Chris not being able to play and to have Tyler not being able to be here right now,” recounted Armstrong, a fifth-year senior linebacker. “So I said a few things that were on my mind at the time on how much Chris and Tyler mean to us. Being a part of this defense I felt like I needed to remind the guys of who we are and what we’re about.
“I kind of reminded them that we’re a character team and by a character team, I mean everyone is willing to put everyone, all 10 guys, above themselves. By putting the team first, they’re always willing to do their job even if it means they’re not going to make the play. If you have to take on a blocker so someone else can be free, this is the type of team that will do that without question.”
Armstrong’s message was well-received.
“Everyone gets motivated by Ethan; he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever met in my life, tough as nails,” said inside linebacker Marcus Trotter, who replaced Borland in the starting lineup. “I’ve always tried to take Ethan’s perspectives on everything. He has been like an older brother to me.”
Trotter felt like Armstrong was not only trying to motivate the team before taking on the Hawkeyes for the first time since 2010 but he was also painting a bigger picture on the far-reaching impact of the sport and how it was bigger than any one individual. “That’s what he was preaching,” Trotter said.
Little did Armstrong know while he was addressing his teammates that the defense would be confronted with a tilted playing field in the first half that would test their toughness. “I was really proud of the way we responded and we were able to get stops and hold them to field goals,” Armstrong said.
It would be the No. 1 storyline of Wisconsin’s 28-9 win. In the first quarter alone, the Hawkeyes started drives on the UW 49, 39 and 41 and their own 44 and came away with one field goal. In the second quarter, they had a first-and-goal on the UW 6 and had to settle for another field goal.
Listen to what was being said in the Badgers’ locker room afterwards:
“We stood our ground and I think that showed some of the character of our defense,” said outside linebacker Brendan Kelly. “As a defense, you just have to answer and stay strong.”
“We gave Iowa a short field a number of times,” said quarterback Joel Stave, “and the defense did a tremendous job of having our back and bailing us out after we put them in a tough position.”
“It was probably the reason we won the game; our defense played their tails off,” said tailback James White. “We weren’t giving them good field position because we weren’t moving the ball.”
“One of our goals every week is to not give up any touchdowns after a turnover,” said defensive lineman Pat Muldoon. “We focused on that, we bowed up, and it was a confidence booster.”
“We knew that our defense was good so that’s not really surprising,” said tight end Jacob Pedersen. “We struggle to move the ball against them when we play them in practice.”
Wisconsin’s defensive tenacity was rewarded when Stave and Pedersen combined on a 44-yard touchdown pass to lift the Badgers into a 7-6 lead with 1:49 remaining in the first half.
“It gave us the momentum for the rest of the game,” White said. “Great throw, great catch.”
“At halftime in the locker room,” Trotter said, “we knew that we could win this game.”
How did Pedersen get so open between cornerback Desmond King and safety Tanner Miller?
|“I think we’re resilient,” Trotter said. “A lot of guys have a lot of different stories; a lot of guys were walk-ons; a lot of guys were under-recruited. The main thing is that we all believe.”
“Basically, it’s a choice route,” Pedersen explained. “I’ve got the option to run the corner or I run the post depending on what I get from the defense. I had a corner (King) playing outside and a safety (Miller) rolled to one-high, so I was able to hit the post. Stave found me and made it work.
“All it takes is one play -- one play can change a game,” added Pedersen, who has 10 catches in the last three games. “That gave us a little momentum and got us going on offense. It kind of showed us, ‘Hey, we can move the ball on these guys. We just have to take it upon ourselves to make some plays.”’
Iowa was 5-0 when winning the turnover battle and 0-3 when having fewer takeaways than their opponent. The UW defense kept the trend alive with a couple of second-half pass interceptions.
The first resulted when Armstrong pressured quarterback Jake Rudock to hurry his throw out of his own end zone and Rudock’s pass into double-coverage was picked off by Darius Hillary.
The second pick was also the result of pressure. Trotter disrupted backup quarterback C.J. Beathard’s throwing motion and the ball deflected off an offensive lineman’s helmet to none other than Muldoon.
“I saw it hanging in the air for a while,” he said, “and I had a split-second thought before I went up for it that “This is going to hurt, but I’ve got to go for it.’ It would have really hurt if I missed it.”
Muldoon won a “jump ball” for the pick; his first since his junior year of high school, he said. While fibbing about his vertical leap, he conceded that he had not played basketball since grade school.
The Badgers converted both takeaways into touchdowns. But it didn’t come without a price; Jared Abbrederis was injured after catching a 20-yard scoring pass and didn’t return to the game.
From the start of the season, the players have bought into the “next man up” concept. Saturday was no different when the Badgers were forced to play shorthanded at various positions.
“I think we’re resilient,” Trotter said. “A lot of guys have a lot of different stories; a lot of guys were walk-ons; a lot of guys were under-recruited. The main thing is that we all believe.
“We believe in each other. We believe in our coaches and the schemes that they’re giving us. We believe in our university. You always want to believe that the next guy is going to step up.
“That’s just the way it is. We’re always the underdog in certain aspects and we always like proving to people that we can play with anyone.”
BYU will pose a big test here Saturday. The Cougars feature a frenetic offense, a dual-threat quarterback in Taysom Hill, an opportunistic defense and a marque linebacker in Kyle Van Noy.
The 23-year-old Hill is a 6-foot-2, 221-pound sophomore and ranks No. 20 in the country in rushing average (110.5) -- White, for comparison, ranks No. 25 (100.5) -- and No. 29 in passing average (252.7).
Hill ran for 259 of BYU’s 550 total rushing yards in a 40-21 rout of Texas. He threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns against Houston. He also rushed for 128 yards in that win.
“I know they have some special athletes on offense,” said Kelly, who seen bits and pieces of BYU in action. “I’ve seen their quarterback play and I’ve got some notes down on him already.”
UW coach Gary Andersen probably has a full notebook on Hill. Last year, BYU edged Utah State, 6-3, in Provo. Hill threw for 235 yards (24-for-36) and ran for 80 on 19 carries.
Andersen knows that the Cougars are extremely physical on both sides of the ball.
Armstrong knows something, too.
“I know they’ve put up some impressive numbers,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge. But it’s November; there are no more off-weeks. You have to bring your ‘A’ game.”