Wisconsin adds to Iowa’s wear and tear entering bye week

Chris Cuellar

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa is the only team in the Big Ten Conference’s West Division to play eight games. It shows.

No. 10 Wisconsin piled on to the wear and tear that the Hawkeyes (5-3, 3-2) have taken since early September, with a physical 17-9 loss Saturday closing out two months of inconsistent play.

Now, it’s time for a bye week.

Iowa's Nathan Bazata struggles to get up during the Hawkeyes' game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

“It’s going to be good for us as a team,” Iowa junior guard Sean Welsh said. “It’ll be good to get some younger guys some work, but we’ve got a lot of older guys that are a little dinged up too.

“It’ll be good for us to get better and healthier on the field.”

Iowa’s fifth consecutive Saturday with a conference game became its third straight home loss.

Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) never trailed, relying on an outstanding defense and disciplined offense to extend the road winning streak in this series to six games. Its pounding style wore down a home sideline already beset by injuries — starting left tackle Boone Myers didn’t play — and battered from games and practices.

“The guys that have been playing a lot of snaps, we track those like everybody would,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game. “A fair amount of those guys are hurt.”

Iowa’s offensive line was using its sixth different starting unit this season, getting right tackle Cole Croston back into the rotation and moving junior Ike Boettger to where Myers would have been. Tight end George Kittle was questionable before the game with a lower leg injury and held down his starting spot after kickoff, but did not catch a pass or appear after halftime.

“George Kittle today really gutted it up,” Ferentz said. “First time he really did anything strenuous was Thursday this week, during his off day. That was without us, but he was doing some things out there with the medical staff. He practiced yesterday.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz watches as Nathan Bazata is walked to the sidelines during the Hawkeyes' game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

Defensive tackle Nathan Bazata also came off with a leg injury before halftime and tried to play on. That meant an increased role for backup Faith Ekakitie, who played opposite Jaleel Johnson during two second-half sacks. Ekakitie was visibly sore as he walked out of the postgame press room, like many of his disappointed teammates under Kinnick Stadium.

Ferentz plans to have as many bodies back as possible by the time Iowa plays again Nov. 5.

“It’s about moving forward,” Ekakitie said. “We’ve still got four games left, and those are all games we want to win. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not the end of the season. We can still have a really good season … but we need to get guys rested up and somehow get better during this bye week.”

Rutgers is the only other Big Ten team to log eight games through Saturday. Iowa has shared a busy schedule with the Scarlets Knights, but the similarities end there. The ESPN-aired loss dropped Iowa into the middle of the West Division pack, while Rutgers is 0-5 at the bottom of the East Division.

The bye week will allow the Hawkeyes to mentally and physically recover from Wisconsin’s dominating 37:02 advantage in time of possession and 8-of-17 conversion rate on important third downs.

“Especially with that kind of offense, you get a little beat up,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “They run a lot of power at you, a lot of down-the-middle stuff. We’ve just got to keep on getting better at that type of stuff and not worry about the fatigue.”

Multiple Hawkeyes refused to discuss their place in the conference race, only looking forward to a week without an opponent and Penn State after that. They’re due for a break.

“We’re just trying to take it week by week,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “From here on out, it’s about taking each game as it is.”