MADISON – Wisconsin football usually has a 24-hour rule to enjoy victories or lament losses before moving on to the next opponent on the schedule. On Saturday night, the Badgers’ equipment department had other ideas.
As the team returned to the locker room following the 28-0 victory over Hawaii, the clock that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the next game, accompanied by a sign that says “Beat (school),” had already been changed.
The message was as clear as black and yellow: “Beat Iowa.”
“Everybody knows we have to flip the page and get ready for the physical play, because every week in Big Ten play there’s the potential that someone can knock you off,” said outside linebacker Joe Schobert. “We can’t take a second off.”
When No.19 Wisconsin (3-1) hosts Iowa (4-0) tomorrow morning, the first meeting between the two programs in Camp Randall Stadium since 2009, the seniors know what to expect – physical, hard-hitting football. It’s another reason why UW broke from routine and had some of the vets speak up on what UW will see in the post-victory locker room.
“They are a hard-nosed team,” said senior fullback Derek Watt. “They are going to run the ball on offense and they are going to have a stout defense in their front seven. It’ll be a good challenge for us and a good way to start off week one of the Big Ten.”
Wisconsin and Iowa have always believed in similar principles. Both view tight ends and fullbacks – dying breeds in the era of spread offenses - as integral parts of the offensive scheme and like to establish the run between meat-and-potatoes offensive linemen.
This season, however, the two programs really do mirror each other offensively. Both programs are going through growing pains on the offensive line and have a starting tailback who is banged up. But both programs have survived because of a quarterback who the coaching staff put faith in during the offseason.
Both Joel Stave and C.J. Beathard were part of a quarterback rotation in 2014 and were proclaimed the unquestioned starter before the beginning of spring ball. While Stave got the nod in March, Beathard was dubbed the quarterback on Jan.8 when Iowa released its spring depth chart more than two months before the Hawkeyes started practices.
Developing into the leader of the offense and one of the leaders of the team, being named the game day captain all four games, Beathard is the most efficient passer in the Big Ten at 157.8. Completing 68.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and one interception in 110 attempts, he’s also rushed for three touchdowns and flirted with 100 rushing yards twice.
Looking back at the time when he made the decision to now, head coach Kirk Ferentz – the longest tenure coach in the league at 17 seasons – sees Beathard’s maturity and confidence flourish.
“Players tend to develop and with every phase of the way, he’s raised his level up another notch,” said Ferentz. “... The way I would describe it is really since we made that announcement, he’s really embraced being a starting quarterback and acted like a starting quarterback. I’ve never seen a good quarterback that wasn’t a strong leader. You don’t just ordain someone to be a leader, you have to work at that and earn that. Not that C.J. wasn’t doing that before, but I think he really has raised his level of leadership.”
On a three game winning streak since the opening loss to Alabama, Wisconsin’s running game has steadily improved and the Badgers’ defense has yet to allow a touchdown at home. Those wins were nice but weren’t against the kind of competition UW will face weekly in the Big Ten.
With that in mind, does head coach Paul Chryst think is team is prepared for conference play?
“Ready or not,” he said, “here it comes.”