Bring on Wisconsin: Hawkeyes ready for 'huge challenge'

Rick Brown

Iowa players celebrate after dispatching Illinois 30-14.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The table is set. The football is in Iowa's court.

Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, with Nebraska coming to Iowa City a week later. They represent the first two top-25 teams the Hawkeyes will face this season. Win them both, and the Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) will likely play in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.

"You want to be involved in big games when you come to schools like this," Iowa senior strong safety John Lowdermilk said.

While the locker room mantra is one game at a time, Iowa needs to win two — and need Minnesota to lose once more, to Nebraska and/or Wisconsin — to get to Indianapolis. But the only one that matters right now is Wisconsin.

Iowa’s John Lowdermilk (37) wraps up Illinois’ Josh Ferguson during the Hawkeyes’ seventh win of the season.

"It's a huge challenge," Lowdermilk said after the Iowa defense limited the Illinois defense to 235 yards in a 30-14 victory. "They're a very physical team. We didn't play the way we wanted to against Minnesota (a 51-14 loss Nov. 8), another physical team. This is an opportunity to showcase our ability."

Lowdermilk said that defensive coordinator Phil Parker emphasized mental toughness with his team after Illinois connected on a 31-yard West Lunt-to-Mike Dudek touchdown pass in the first quarter.

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Illinois didn't threaten to score again until much too late, when Dudek caught another 31-yard TD pass with less than 4 minutes to play.

Now it's on to the next opponent: Wisconsin.

"Everyone will be excited for this game," Lowdermilk said. "It will be a big game for us."