Power running games. Hayden Fry coaching disciples. Corn-fed recruits. Iconic stadiums. Charming campuses. Geographic proximity.
When the Wisconsin Badgers meet the Iowa Hawkeyes Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, it will be as if both programs are looking in the mirror at each other because of all the parallels between the two football programs over the past two decades. Both are big, strong, physical teams that like to run first, run second and pass only when necessary. In fact, it can be argued that of any two Big Ten teams, the Badgers and Hawkeyes are similar in more aspects then even Ohio State and Michigan.
But then why have the Badgers consistently had more success than the Hawkeyes?
That’s the question on the mind of a lot of Hawkeye fans and players as the Badgers again are favored to leave Kinnick with a victory. And that’s the question that was posed this week to perhaps the person on the Iowa team who can best answer it:
Defensive lineman Mike Hardy of Appleton, Wisc.
“We’re two of the same teams,’” Hardy said. “We have two of the same styles. . . . We’ve been in a lot of close games and we haven’t been able to finish them the last couple of years . . . You can say that they’ve been able to finish games more than we have.”
“I don’t know where all their recruits are from, but Wisconsin athletes are probably the same as Iowa athletes — they get a lot of those from the state of Wisconsin and we get a lot of ours from the state of Iowa.”
Hardy has played a bigger part of the rotation on the defensive line with the injury to Dominic Alvis. Hardy made several key plays in the victory over Northwestern that were reminiscent of great Hawkeye lineman of the past like Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug. Hardy said he learned a lot from both of them in they year they played together.
“Just their work ethic, especially with Klug,” Hardy said. “He’s an inside guy. . . You need to be so focused on your technique. That’s what he did, that’s what both of them did. . . Just being able to be here for one year with them and seeing how they approached things. It was a big help.”
One glance at Hardy Tuesday told everything. He grew up a fan of the Badgers and the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. He didn’t dare wear any Badger outer gear to keep out the cold Tuesday, but he was sporting a Packers green and gold wool cap. And to his credit, he didn’t try to deny his boyhood affinity for the Hawkeyes’ hated rival from Madison, Wisc.
“I was a Badger fan, that’s just what it was,” Hardy said. “You grew up Badger fan, you grew up Packers fan. Those are the teams. Obviously, I had my opportunity to go there, but I came here for various reasons and I haven’t regretted it one bit.”
On Saturday, Hardy hopes to show Badger players and fans exactly what those reasons were.