“If you’re dead weight, you can get off the ship,” senior fullback Alec Ingold said. “But we’re going to keep moving forward.”
That was the message inside the Wisconsin locker room following their humbling 24-21 loss to BYU. The loss came as a shock to Badgers fans, who had playoff dreams swirling around Madison. Perhaps it was too much preseason hype, perhaps the Badgers were overrated, perhaps they had a bad day. One thing was for sure, a non-conference loss, at home, was not in their plans.
“It really opened some eyes,” senior linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “It let some guys know that we can’t just walk onto a field and beat someone.”
Following the loss, head coach Paul Chryst delivered one key message: respond. Chryst echoed this message to his players all week, urging them to respond to adversity and fight for their season.
Their response was tested a week later against Big Ten West rival Iowa under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. After a key defensive stop on third-and-five with just over five minutes to play, the Badgers got the ball back on their own 12-yard line trailing by a field goal, eerily reminiscent of the situation they had been in the week before.
This time the response was resounding as junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook took his teammates on a 10-play, 88-yard drive with 5:40 left in the game after trailing 17-14.
Not only did the drive give the Badgers the winning touchdown, but it gave the team its first coming-together moment that wasn’t there in the first three games.
“It was everybody,” junior receiver A.J. Taylor said. “It was Alex [Hornibrook], it was the defense, it was us, the receivers, the running backs, I think we all decided that we needed to do this.”
There was no dead weight on Wisconsin’s boat on Saturday, with every player and unit playing a pivotal role in guiding Wisconsin to the Heartland Trophy. Freshman cornerback Travian Blaylock’s fumble recovery on a punt return encapsulated the case that all players — no matter their experience or position — came together to win a pivotal Big Ten West dogfight.
“When you lose like that last week, it’s tough,” Ingold said. “There’s a lot of self-reflection. You saw today, going into a hostile environment, everyone who came here had a role, and everyone that’s a part of this team believed that we were always going to win, and that’s what happened at the end of the day.”
Wisconsin-Iowa games are famous for their tough, physical style of play. Saturday was no different, as the two sides traded blows all night. In the end, the Badgers got the last punch in.
“We came into this game knowing it was going to be a fist fight,” Jake Ferguson said. “You’re going to get knocked down, but you have to stand back up. Those last five minutes for us we really honed in, and we said, ‘Hey this is the time we need to stand up, and this is where we need to play our best ball.’ A lot of guys stepped up, and it was really fun in those last five minutes.”
“With this team, coming off a loss, everyone on this field today proved they are gritty,” Ingold said.
Multiple players credited their ability to play their best football to finally coming together as a team. Not as the team with the Heisman candidate, not the team with the great offensive line or the team with the inexperienced defense.
On Saturday, they were just a good football team — the team analysts and fans thought they were capable of becoming.
“I don’t believe we have come together [this season] like we did tonight,” Taylor said after the win. “The way we rallied tonight, that was special. You could feel it just within us. I didn’t think we were going to lose that game at all. It’s hard to explain.”
“I definitely felt that coming-together moment. When you’re on the road, we have so many guys — it’s just you guys, together, on the field. Just having that guy next to you, having his back, that’s the biggest thing,” sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor said.
After the game, Ingold said this team wanted to write its own story. Asked what they wanted their story to be, he had a simple answer.
“Resilient, tough and dependable.”
The Badgers wrote the first chapter of that story with their performance at Kinnick Stadium.