P.J.'s Patience Pays Off

After struggling against Iowa's stout front four for three quarters, sophomore P.J. Hill breaks through to hurt the Hawkeyes where it hurt them most - on the scoreboard.

MADISON - The game between the 9th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Saturday night showcased a battle between unstoppable juggernauts trying to break through an immovable brick wall. The Badgers' vigorous running back P.J. Hill eventually was able to bulge through the Hawkeyes' rigid rush defense with a 17-13 win.

Hill had an incredible three game stretch heading into the game against Iowa. Even splitting carries between fellow backs Zach Brown and Lance Smith, Hill was ranked fifth in the country in carries, sixth in yards and fourth in touchdowns—all while not fumbling. Across the board, he has been successful in all ways.

"When I get going, it's hard to stop me," Hill said. "No matter how many times you give me the ball, I'm gonna do something with it. We just wear teams down."

The Hawkeyes' rush defense had been equally as impressive, not allowing a single offensive touchdown in their first three games. The Iowa defense ranked third nationally in points allowed per game, eighth in rushing yards allowed and fifth in total yards allowed.

Iowa's defense remained the reason this game was so difficult for Wisconsin to win. The Hawkeyes' offense had played horribly this season – ranked last in scoring, passing and rushing in the Big Ten – but the defense had helped put their record at 2-1 coming into Camp Randall.

A defensive struggle certainly took place Saturday. At the end of the first quarter, the Hawkeyes had won every battle against Hill. They limited him to 11 yards on four carries. On two of the Badger's five drives – all of which resulted in punts – Hill didn't even touch the ball.

"We just weren't executing, but we knew it wasn't gonna be easy," Hill said. "It was our first game playing against the Big Ten and against a good defense. We tried to fix some things and open the game up."

With less than a minute remaining in the half, Hill broke through on a counter rush to the left side for a long 17-yard game. He scampered downfield following his blocks while getting chased from behind the whole way. He got to the one-yard line, but the ball was stripped and fumbled into the endzone.

"It was just my fault," Hill said. "I just saw the endzone and thought I was gone and [Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds] made a good play. That's a good defense and they made a good play."

After the officials brought the ball back to the three-yard line, Hill was feeling pressure to not let that mistake kill the Badgers' rally in a close game. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst chose to pass on consecutive plays, and the drive resulted in touchdown catch by Travis Beckum.

"I was very relieved," Hill said after the touchdown. "You can't just keep thinking about the play that just happened, but I when I got the ball the next time I just stayed focus and kept trying to move the ball down the field."

Iowa's defensive line made it difficult for Hill to move the ball down the field. Returning from injury was last year's All-Big Ten Conference selection, defensive end Ken Iwebema, who is being put on the watch list for best lineman in the country. Tackle Mitch King has single-handedly dominated the Badgers' offensive line in the past two years; in two games he posted six tackles for a loss and two sacks. End Bryan Mattison is a three-year starter who has 3.5 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble this year, and tackle Matt Kroll posted 10 tackles against the Badgers last year.

If the Hawkeyes defensive line is their strength, then the Badger's rushing strength took a while to move forward Saturday night. Hill never had the opportunity to run the ball effectively in the beginning because the Iowa defense dominated the line of scrimmage.

"We knew [the Iowa defensive lineman] were gonna be tough and be physical," Badgers center Marcus Coleman said. "We just smashed heads all night. There were things that those players did that we had to adjust to. When we did that, we felt like we really opened up P.J.'s game."

This game followed an incredible outing by Hill in the previous week's win. Against The Citadel, Hill tied a school record with five touchdowns, and his 6.7 yards per carry average and 168 yards rushing carried the team.

Hill lacked that type of consistent production early in the game against Iowa. This has not been the first time that Hill has had difficulties against Iowa. Last year, he managed to get only 2.8 yards per carry.

"Tonight, P.J. was doing what he was supposed to be doing," Wisconsin fullback Chris Pressley said. "It was just that execution of our line and everything else wasn't great. At halftime we had more time to adjust. [Iowa] had a really great front seven and P.J. is a guy that's just gonna pound it in there."

On what seemed to be almost every play, Hill was stopped by an Iowa defender before he made it out of the backfield. The Iowa defense held Hill to two yards or less on 13 of his carries.

"That's gonna happen through four quarters of football," Hill said. "It's all about regrouping, executing and going out there and fixing mistakes."

This game was a defensive slugfest as the Badgers' passing attack struggled as well. In low-scoring games, Wisconsin needs Hill to be able to run the ball effectively.

With Wisconsin down 7-10, Hill was able to break through in the beginning of the fourth quarter. He ran through the wall of the Iowa defensive line while grabbing 11 yards and a first down. On the next play, he rushed again for a first down and a 12-yard gain. For the drive, he carried the ball on 10 of 11 Wisconsin's plays.

"You just gotta play the game for four quarters and when the opportunity comes you gotta take it." Hill said, "You can't always think you're gonna take it to the house. You just gotta take it two or three yards and eventually you're gonna get it. I'm a workhouse and I just gotta be patient."

Hill's patience finally saw the results he was looking for. He got into the endzone untouched on the last play of the drive giving Wisconsin the lead at 14-10—the go-ahead score as the Badgers were able to hold on for the win.

During the game, Hill struggled to gain yards when Wisconsin wanted to run the ball. The lack of push against Iowa's frontline resulted in quarterback Tyler Donovan having to get out of unenviable third down situations. Hill noticed that and approached his team to get him the ball more often.

"[Hill]'s always gonna ask for the ball and we're gonna give it to him," head coach Bret Bielema said. "You'd much rather have a back that wants the football."

After slugging away against the Iowa defensive line all night, Hill's finish was much better than his start. He broke through with enough carries and finished the game with an impressive stat line; 29 carries, 114 yards, one touchdown an average of 3.9 yards per carry.

For the first time, an opponent has gained a 100 yards rushing against Iowa this year. The win became much sweeter because Hill had struggled against them for much of the game.

"I get motivated when I start off slower, but it's not just me, it's those guys up front blocking too," Hill said. "The Iowa players were physical and tough, but we eventually were able to run on them when we had to and win the game."

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