Back in Shape
hopes rest on the shoulders of a leaner P.J. Hill, who led the Badgers to a Big
Ten win over Iowa
IT TOOK NEARLY 45
minutes and a brief injury setback before it came together, but late in the
third quarter against Iowa last Saturday night, Wisconsin tailback P.J. Hill
pounded out the type of gritty, do-it-all drive Heisman campaigns are built on.
It was a series that will inevitably spark further comparisons of Hill with
former Badgers bruiser Ron Dayne. Hill hopes it was the type of career-defining
performance that will end such tidy comparisons too.
Trailing 10--7 and
sitting on its own 32-yard line as the third quarter expired, Wisconsin
appeared at a loss against an Iowa defense that had come into the game ranked
fifth in the nation and had been allowing just 2.1 yards per carry. The Badgers
offense had sputtered, fumbling away a promising early opportunity and
stringing together four three-and-outs. Meanwhile Hill, the 2006 Big Ten
freshman of the year, had been held in check and had missed a portion of the
quarter with a neck stinger. Wisconsin's Division I-A-best 12-game winning
streak was in danger.
As most great
backs do in these situations, Hill called for the ball. "I just took one
look at [the coaches]," he said later. "They knew what to do." What
they did was hand the ball to Hill on 10 of the Badgers' next 12 plays, which
included pinballing rushes of seven, seven, eight and 12 yards, plus a
punctuating two-yard TD plunge. It was the first rushing touchdown against the
Hawkeyes this season and proved decisive in what would be a 17--13 Wisconsin
The physicality of
Hill's 10-play assault understandably evoked memories of Dayne, who bulldozed
his way to the Heisman in 1999. Hill, however, likes to point out that it's his
new, very un-Dayne-like physique that enabled him to bring the pain late in the
game. Hill, who stands only 5'11", lost almost 20 pounds (down from 242 to
225) during the off-season, and now he hopes to wear down defenses, rather than
vice versa. Joked Hill, "I finally got to utilize my remodeled
Bret Bielema is fortunate to have such a hard-nosed back because before
Saturday he appeared to have a suspect defense: In the 11-team Big Ten, the
Badgers were ranked ninth in points allowed. Against The Citadel on Sept. 15,
Hill scored three first-half touchdowns, and each was matched on the subsequent
drive by a Bulldogs TD. Before that it took second-half offensive surges to
fight off Washington State and UNLV. On Saturday the Badgers defense finally
showed up, sacking Iowa's Jake Christensen four times and hurrying him into 20
incompletions on 37 attempts. But consider the opponent: Iowa is last in the
Big Ten in every major offensive category.
struggled the first few games, and the offense stepped up; today they
struggled, and we stepped up," said linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
"That's what teams do." Come Saturday, the Badgers would be better off
if both stepped up: Undefeated Michigan State visits Camp Randall Stadium.
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