Wisconsin's running game finally started rolling at the end of the nonconference schedule. What has been an immovable object stands in the way of a winning start to the Big Ten season.
Visiting Iowa looks to win its fifth straight by keeping No. 19 Wisconsin's ground game in check Saturday in the conference opener for these Western Division teams.
Wisconsin (3-1) topped 200 yards on the ground for the first time this season last Saturday and has posted three rushing touchdowns in each of its last three games. Iowa (4-0), though, has allowed 84.0 rushing yards per game and joins Navy as the only teams yet to allow a rushing score.
Wisconsin's rushing yards have increased in each of its four games, from a measly 40 in a season-opening 35-17 loss to then-No. 3 Alabama, to 188, 199 and 326 in home wins over Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii.
The final number is most promising as it stacks up with the Badgers' ground production from 2014. They exceeded last year's rushing average of 320.14 yards in the 28-0 win over Hawaii, while an average carry of 6.0 yards pulled close to last season's nation-leading mark of 6.9.
''I think the running game is just getting better every week,'' quarterback Joel Stave said. ''We did a good job really sticking to it the past couple of weeks and kind of pushing it and eventually getting some big runs.''
An initial drop off from 2014 was not so surprising with Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon now playing for the NFL's San Diego Chargers. The Badgers, though, entered their fourth nonconference game with the lowest-rushing average in the Big Ten at 142.3.
Wisconsin now sits ninth in the conference at 188.3, thanks in large part to Taiwan Deal's 147-yard, two-touchdown performance against Hawaii. Deal, who earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors after surpassing his three-game total of 143 yards, heads an inexperienced rushing attack behind an offensive line with three new starters.
''We've got some young guys running the ball behind us. We've got some young guys on the O-line,'' senior left tackle Tyler Marz said. ''Reps is the most important thing, and they're getting that whether it's in practice or in the game settings.''
A veteran running back is hoping to help Iowa improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2009.
Senior Jordan Canzeri logged his second 100-yard game in last Saturday's 62-16 win over North Texas. Canzeri, Iowa's leading rusher and third-leading receiver, ran for 115 yards and four touchdowns in the Hawkeyes' highest-scoring performance since a 62-10 victory over Northwestern in 2002 - a stretch of 159 games. He has 316 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Canzeri's four scores on the ground against North Texas matched an Iowa record last met by Shonn Greene in 2008. Tavian Banks was the last Hawkeyes running back with at least eight rushing touchdowns through four games when he had 12 in 1997.
Iowa has averaged 37.75 points and 439.25 total yards.
"It is awesome when we have all 11 guys working the way we are," Canzeri told the team's official website. "We have so many weapons and that's something we're happy with. We're glad for the success that we're having now, but we can't become complacent and have to keep working hard so we get better."
Wisconsin has clamped down to give up three points in its last three games while not allowing more than 255 total yards.
The Badgers have won three straight against Iowa, with last year's tilt a tight 26-24 victory in which it ran for 266 yards. Whichever side walks away victorious Saturday will also take home the Heartland Trophy.
"When you look at the rivalry games, the trophy games that we have, if you want to win your side (of the Big Ten), you've got to beat those teams," first-year Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. "It's a sign of success."