IOWA CITY — With four games remaining in the race, showing up at the starting line on time today is a necessity for the Iowa football team.
"I think the message to the team is we need to be ready at kickoff. At 3:05, we’d better be ready," Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said.
If not? It might be too late.
The stretch run in the chase for the Big Ten West Division title begins today with 18th-ranked Iowa and 16th-ranked Wisconsin on even footing heading into their game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Both are 6-2 on the season and 3-2 in the Big Ten, both are two games behind unbeaten Minnesota in the division race and both still have games to play against the Golden Gophers.
Today’s winner in the battle for the Heartland Trophy will keep their hopes of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game alive while the loser will be all-but mathematically eliminated.
"This is what you play for, to be in a position to play big games in November," Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said.
And against Wisconsin, that starts with being ready when the game kicks off.
"The message is if you’re not ready to go, these guys know what to do with it," Ferentz said. "They’re going to be ready. They’ve demonstrated that time and time again, not just this year but historically, these guys show up ready to play."
The Badgers have demonstrated that point this season.
In victories over Michigan and Michigan State, Wisconsin seized control quickly and never looked back.
The Badgers built leads of at least 28-0 by halftime in each of their first three games, including their Big Ten-opening 35-14 win over the Wolverines.
"They turned it over three times, so forget about that," Ferentz said. "If you’re going to turn it over against them, you might as well go home because it’s not going to be pretty."
The Spartans fell behind 17-0 by the half of their 38-0 loss and, running just 45 plays, are among four Wisconsin opponents to finish with 10 or fewer first downs.
"They had like four or five three and outs and a six and out, and that was just in the first half," Ferentz said. "You’re chasing 17 points, it’s hard to have a balanced patient game plan when you do that."
The Hawkeyes are getting the message.
"This week, it’s all about being ready," receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. "When the game kicks off, it’s go time."
That’s especially the case for running back Toren Young.
The junior who shares the workload in the Hawkeye backfield with Mekhi Sargent and Tyler Goodson grew up in the Madison area, playing football for Monona Grove and watching games at Camp Randall Stadium.
"It’s going to be exciting and the biggest thing is that it’s a game that means a lot to us as a team," said Young, who expects to have around 30 family and friends attending the game as a group.
"It will be a tough, physical game. It always is. I’m ready to be a part of it and so some good things."
That includes helping the Hawkeyes get off to a fast start.
"We know that will be big for us this week," Young said. "Wisconsin comes out strong every game, and we need to be locked into making that happen, too."
Smith-Marsette said there is no doubt that Young will be locked in.
"This is a big week for him, a lot of family coming to the game and everything," Smith-Marsette said. "He wants this one. He’s made that pretty clear for a long time. We all want it. It’s a big game."
Wisconsin has won three straight and six of the last seven games it has played against Iowa.
The Hawkeyes’ last two wins in the series came at Camp Randall Stadium, most recently in 2015 by a 10-6 score.
"We know that we have to start off fast," center Tyler Linderbaum said. "We’re two teams built the same way. We both want to run the ball and use our strength to move it. Whoever shows up at 3 o’clock ready to go is going to have the best chance to win this game."