IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Shonn Greene just keeps getting better — and the resurgent Hawkeyes are following his lead.
Greene rushed for a career-high 217 yards and four touchdowns and Iowa pounded reeling Wisconsin 38-16 on Saturday, sending the Badgers to their first 0-4 start in the Big Ten since 1996.
Greene had touchdown runs of 52, 34, 34, and 12 yards for the Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten), who have answered a three-game losing streak with a pair of blowout wins.
Greene, who didn’t even play football last fall while sorting out his academics at a community college, became the first Iowa player to rush for four touchdowns since Tavian Banks did it against Iowa State in 1997.
Greene is also the first Division I player in the country with over 100 yards in his first eight games of the season, and he’s done it while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
“Shonn has been giving us a spark all season long,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s very determined, he’s very tough-minded and he’s a guy that can spark a football team.”
A spark is one of the many things the Badgers (3-4, 0-4) are missing. They followed up a humiliating home loss to Penn State by allowed their most points to Iowa since 1978.
Wisconsin, which reached as high as No. 8 in the polls in late September, has been outscored 86-23 the past two weeks. Dreams of a Big Ten title and a berth in the Bowl Championship Series have been replaced by questions about whether the Badgers can snap out of their funk in time to even make it to a bowl game.
“It’s a mental thing, it’s a discipline thing, it’s an everything thing,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “We need to improve what we do in all three phases of the game.”
Dustin Sherer, making his first career start in place of Allan Evridge, was 17-of-34 for 161 yards and two interceptions for the Badgers.
Sherer finally got Wisconsin’s offense moving on its first two drives of the second half. But Iowa held the Badgers to field goals instead of touchdowns, as Philip Welch hit from 40 and 35 yards out to pull Wisconsin within 14-9 midway through the third quarter.
The Badgers would soon regret not finding the end zone.
Just three plays later, Greene outran Wisconsin’s defense for his longest touchdown of the year, a 52-yarder that put the Hawkeyes ahead 21-9.
Paki O’Meara then blocked a punt to give Iowa the ball on the Wisconsin 33. Ricky Stanzi threw behind tight end Alan Reisner in the flat, but Reisner made a one-handed grab and, thanks to a key block from Brandon Myers, ran 16 yards to make it 28-9 with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Sherer was picked off by Pat Angerer early in the fourth quarter, and Greene put a capper on his best day yet with a 34-yard touchdown run to give the Hawkeyes a 35-9 lead with 9:18 left.
“It’s that feeling of, when something negative goes wrong it affects a couple different areas and that has a cumulative effect on your mentality, Bielema said. “Any time you’re a little mentally beat down, you become physically beat down.”
Until the past two games, Iowa’s problem was that it couldn’t win the close ones. The Hawkeyes won’t have to worry about that if they keep pounding teams like they have these past two weeks, when they’ve outscored their opponents 83-25.
“I don’t think our confidence has ever been down,” defensive tackle Mitch King said. “We knew we were there. We knew we were close.”
Stanzi had 114 yards passing and a touchdown for Iowa, which reclaimed the Heartland Trophy after two straight losses to Wisconsin.
John Clay led the Badgers with 89 yards rushing, and Zach Brown added a late 21-yard touchdown run. P.J. Hill injured his left ankle in the second quarter and did not return. He finished with 34 yards on eight carries.
The Hawkeyes, behind a pair of Greene touchdowns, led 14-3 at halftime.
Iowa went up 7-0 on its first possession, as Greene capped a 70-yard drive with a 12-yard TD run. His next score, a 34-yard run that made it 14-0 midway through the second quarter, was a thing of beauty.
Greene burst into Wisconsin’s secondary, juked cornerback Chris Maragos and, after shaking off safety Jay Valia’s attempt to drag him down from behind, dashed into the end zone.
That dazzling run even got Stanzi’s attention — and he was supposed to be carrying out a play-fake.
“I stopped because I saw him go through the line and (thought) ’I’m just going to watch this one,”’ Stanzi said. “It’s like, how much better can he get? He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do to help us out.”