Iowa vs. Wisconsin: A Battle for the West

Kinnick Stadium and the Hawkeyes prepare for a date with Wisconsin on Saturday.


Nick Rohlman

Referees attempt to spot the football during Iowa’s game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. The badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-14.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

The game that Hawkeye fans have been waiting for is finally here.

Iowa (3-0) will take on No. 18 Wisconsin (2-1) under the lights at Kinnick on Saturday night in a game that could have major implications for the rest of the season.

With both teams seemingly far ahead of the rest of the teams in the Big Ten West, the winner of Saturday’s game might have the inside track to seal a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship.

Not to mention it’s a trophy game — the winner of the game will take home the Heartland Trophy. That’s an item Iowa has struggled to get ahold of in recent years, winning just one of the past six matchups with the Badgers.

RELATED: A look back at the best of Kinnick Stadium under the lights

All the buzz that surrounds the game has stayed outside the Iowa practice field. To the Hawkeye players, Saturday is just another game.

“We try to treat every opponent like they’re the biggest game,” Nick Easley said. “Your opponent is the only thing you have on your mind that week, and the best thing you can do is go 1-0.”

The Iowa locker room might be reluctant to talk about the game, but the reality is that since the inception of the new Big Ten divisions five years ago, the winner of the West has been the winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game.

It won’t be an easy task for the Hawkeyes to dethrone the Badgers, but Wisconsin’s loss to BYU last week shows some vulnerability in the team.

“BYU played a really good game,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They caught them a couple times. It took really good effort; that’s what it’s going to take for us.”

While Iowa can look to Wisconsin’s game against BYU for hope, it can’t forget last year’s disastrous 38-14 loss in Madison. The Hawkeye offense was particularly atrocious — it was effectively shut out, because the 2 touchdowns Iowa scored came courtesy of Josh Jackson Pick-6s.

This year, the Hawkeyes want to refocus on the running game and to ensure they take advantage of every opportunity they get against the stingy Badger defense.

RELATED: Hawkeyes will try to avoid last year’s Wisconsin debacle

“We’ve got some things in place to take advantage of,” Nate Stanley said. “We’ve got to be locked in mentally and take advantage when they give us opportunities to make a big play. We have to capitalize.”

One thing that the Hawkeyes will have on their side is the magic of Kinnick under the lights. Over the past two years, Iowa has had great success in night games against ranked opponents.

Last year, it was No. 3 Ohio State, the year before it was No. 2 Michigan — can it happen again this year?

That’s a question to be answered Saturday night, but one thing’s for sure: There’s something special about a night game in Kinnick.

“Playing at Kinnick at night is very special,” T.J. Hockenson said. “Coming out in the swarm with all your brothers, the whole atmosphere is special. We got some of the best fans in the world, and they’re going to show up on Saturday night. We need to give them a reason to be there.”