Defense carries Wisconsin to 27-7 triumph over No. 9 Iowa

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MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin safety Collin Wilder was planning his Halloween costume this week when he bought a red and white hat for $7 at a mall and wrote a message on it with a Sharpie.

Just like that, he came up with the object that best symbolizes how the Badgers have turned their season around.

Wisconsin forced three turnovers and produced six sacks in a 27-7 victory over No. 9 Iowa on Saturday that enabled the Badgers to maintain control of their destiny in the Big Ten West Division race. Each time a Wisconsin player made a big play on defense, he wore Wilder’s hat with the homemade slogan, “The Grit Factory.”

Consider it a more blue-collar, Midwestern version of Miami’s turnover chain.

“That’s the mentality of this whole program, is grit,” said Wilder, who intended to dress up as a factory worker or mechanic for Halloween. “I feel like that’s what this program was built on. When you talk about the grit factory, this is the factory of grit – the University of Wisconsin.”

That mentality has helped Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) win four straight after losing three of its first four games.

“A lot of people counted us out,” said Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, who scored on two quarterback sneaks and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ferguson. “Everybody in that locker room, that never even crossed our mind.”

Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen rushed for 104 yards on 20 attempts. The 17-year-old freshman has run for over 100 yards in four straight games after totaling just 12 carries in Wisconsin’s first four games.

Iowa (6-2, 3-2) has been outscored 51-14 in its last two games after being ranked second in the nation just a couple of weeks ago. This was the Hawkeyes’ first game since a 24-7 home loss to Purdue on Oct. 16.

“There’s no panic,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. “We’ve been there before. We started last season 0-2. The biggest thing is pushing through when you get knocked down like this. There’s no quit in this team.”

Iowa had no answers for a Wisconsin defense that limited the Hawkeyes to 24 yards rushing on 30 carries.

The Badgers built a 20-0 halftime lead as Iowa fumbled three times inside its own 20-yard line in the second quarter, leading to 10 points for the Badgers. Iowa was ranked third and Wisconsin tied for 124th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in turnover margin before Saturday’s game.

The tone was set from the start of the game after Iowa won the toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff rather than defer.

“We saw they wanted the ball,” Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal said. “We were like, `OK, we’re going to show you that’s not a good decision.’ ”

Iowa didn’t pick up a first down until just 1:15 remained in the second quarter. Iowa’s net yardage total didn’t get into positive territory for good until midway through the second quarter when the Hawkeyes already trailed 17-0.

“They played really well today, and obviously we couldn’t match their tempo,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Wisconsin’s defense showed its tenacity all day. Linebacker Jack Sanborn exemplified that as much as anyone.

Iowa trailed 20-7 and was threatening to get back into the game in the third quarter when Sanborn returned from a cut on a finger that required stitches. He teamed up with Scott Nelson to stop Iowa fullback Monte Pottebaum for no gain on fourth-and-1 from Wisconsin’s 40-yard line, foiling the Hawkeyes’ second straight fullback dive attempt.

“I think it’s what everyone expected,” Sanborn said. “It’s Wisconsin vs. Iowa. I think everyone would have been disappointed if they didn’t do a fullback dive there.”

Iowa never threatened again.

Wisconsin’s student section poured onto the field after the game while the Badgers brought out the Heartland Trophy that goes to the winner of this annual matchup. In the meantime, Wilder was left to ponder how he might alter his Halloween costume.

“I don’t think I can wear this hat out there,” Wilder said. “I don’t think I can. It’s sacred now. I think I’ll have to find another hat.”

SCARY INJURY

Wisconsin tight end Clay Cundiff was carted off the field in an ambulance with his right leg in an air cast after he got hurt in the closing seconds of the third quarter. His teammates gathered around him to offer support before the ambulance took him away.

Cundiff gave a thumbs-up to a cheering crowd as he went into the ambulance.

Wisconsin officials said Cundiff was released from the hospital Saturday night.

THE TAKEAWAY

Iowa: The Hawkeyes simply don’t have enough firepower on offense to survive the mistakes they made in the second quarter. Iowa would have lost by an even greater margin if the Hawkeyes hadn’t played such strong red-zone defense. … Before Saturday, Iowa had held opponents to 24 points or fewer in 29 straight games.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have beaten ranked opponents in each of their last two games, as they won 30-13 at then-No. 25 Purdue a week ago. Before this stretch, Wisconsin had lost eight straight games to Top 25 teams.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Iowa obviously will fall out of the top 10 and could plunge all the way into the 20s after a second straight loss.

UP NEXT

Iowa: At Northwestern on Saturday.

Wisconsin: At Rutgers on Saturday.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.