Wisconsin Badgers ready for Big Ten push after bye week to rest, Iowa on deck
MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said an opportune bye week has allowed his players to get their legs back as the 22nd-ranked Badgers renew their regional rivalry at Iowa — with the concern being one leg in particular.
The week off allowed standout senior linebacker Chris Borland to rest his strained right hamstring, injured two weeks ago in a 56-32 victory over Illinois. Borland is expected to play against Iowa.
"He would not have played last Saturday," Andersen said. "It came at a great time for Chris because I know how much it means to him and how much it means for us to have him on the field. And, for our football team, we took advantage of it, tried to get our legs back underneath us as much as possible."
Borland, who missed two games last season with the same strained hamstring, said rest is the only cure.
"I'm really not a big percentage guy, either you can go or you can't," Borland said. "Today, I couldn't. But by Wednesday or Thursday, I will be able to. It's the type of thing where you have to give it time. There's really no toughing out a hamstring. The bye week came at a good time and that is enough rest."
Although the Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) controlled the game offensively against Illinois thanks to running backs Melvin Gordon and James White, they allowed 319 yards passing and seemed out of sync defensively without Borland.
"Practice, we'll be careful. We'll continually watch him and monitor him as it goes. The trainers have done a great job as far as getting him to this point. Chris has done a great job, obviously," Andersen said. "It's not an injury that's foreign to him. He's been through this before a couple times where he sits and I think he'll get back as soon as he can. But, I'm very optimistic that he'll play in the game."
The Badgers, who have won two straight after a 31-24 loss at Ohio State, enter a five-game stretch without a break, including three at home.
Historically strong rivals who play for the Heartland Trophy, Wisconsin and Iowa have not met since 2010, when the Badgers salvaged a 31-30 victory. The series that began in 1906 is even at 42-42-2.
This will be the first trip to Kinnick Stadium for Andersen, in his first season at Wisconsin, and for Borland because of the series' three-year hiatus.
"You watch programs from afar for many, many years and Iowa is obviously one of those programs that has been well-established for a long, long time," Andersen said. "The respect has grown for me just watching how they play, how they compete, how they're coached, how their kids like to play football."
Iowa (5-3, 2-2) has three losses against teams who have a combined 23-1 record. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 17-10 victory over Northwestern in overtime following consecutive losses to No. 24 Michigan State and fourth-ranked Ohio State. Their other loss was to No. 21 Northern Illinois.
Wisconsin and Iowa are very similar, Andersen said.
"It was a very productive week for the kids from a standpoint of preparing for a next opponent," Andersen said. "Iowa is a very stiff challenge. Two very similar identities on what they want to get done on the offensive side of the football. We obviously both want to run the ball. The play-action is a part of the throw game on both sides. Defenses are both physical. Very salty kids on both sides that love the game of football."