Game Preview: Wisconsin Badgers
Iowa emerges from the bye week looking to build on their two game win streak when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday to square off with the Wisconsin Badgers. Iowa enters with a 6-2 record (3-2 in the Big Ten) and currently occupies the 18th slot in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Wisconsin also comes off a bye week sporting a 6-2 record (3-2 in the Big Ten). The Badgers are currently ranked 13th in the College Football Playoff Rankings despite being in the midst of a 2-game losing streak. Wisconsin has won the last three games in the series and lead the all-time series 46-43-2 after Iowa tied it in 2015. Iowa is currently listed as a 9.5 point underdog.
Iowa's Offense Against The Badgers Defense
The Iowa offense will have to bring their best if they want to find success against a stout Badger defense.
Wisconsin finds itself near the top of nearly every defensive statistical category. The Badgers rank 3rd in passing yards allowed, 2nd in total yards allowed, and 5th in points per game, all while forcing nearly 2 turnovers per game. The Wisconsin defense has shown little susceptibility this year, allowing 24 or more points in just two games while holding 4 opponents scoreless this year.
It will be a tough hill to climb, but Iowa has the talent to compete with this Wisconsin defense. Nate Stanley and company have to finish drives when they get the chance against the Badgers. All too often this season, the Iowa offense has moved the ball effectively between the 30's then sputtered as it approached the redzone. The Hawks likely won't get many opportunities to score, so when they get a chance to put touchdowns on the board they have to take advantage.
The keys to the Iowa offense finding success against one of the best defenses in the country lies on the arm of Nate Stanley and the legs of his young pass catchers. Wisconsin will be committed to stopping the run and Iowa will have to complete passes early and often to open up the rushing attack. In Iowa's wins this year, Nate Stanley is completing passes to 7.5 different pass catchers per game, while in losses he is average completions to just 6 pass catchers. Iowa should be in this game late if Stanley can complete passes to at least 7 different receivers.
Another of indicator of success will be the involvement of the Iowa tight ends. With senior tight end Nate Wieting likely being relegated to emergency duty only, Iowa will depend on true freshman Sam LaPorta and first-year starter Shaun Beyer. If Nate Stanley can find the young athletic tight ends over the middle throughout the game, there should be some running room as the game wears on.
It's tough to see Iowa having a ton of success against this stout Wisconsin defense, but the pieces are there for the Hawkeyes to have a solid day. They can't shoot themselves in the foot, and their margin for error is basically non existant. Iowa finds some success against a vaunted Wisconsin defense and puts 17 up on the Badgers.
Iowa's Defense Against The Badgers Offense
The outcome of the entire game will likely come down to one man: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor has already eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark on the season and will be the focal point of Iowa's defensive gameplan.
Much like Wisconsin's defense, the Iowa defense is among the best in college football in many defensive categories. Iowa ranks 3rd in points allowed at just 10.1 points per game, 6th in total defense, and are forcing just over 1 turnover per game. Another stat of note going into this game, Iowa has yet to allow an opponent run play of more than 20 yards all season.
A key to an Iowa victory is keeping Jonathan Taylor contained and getting off the field on 3rd down. Wisconsin's offense has been built all year on explosive plays and wearing opponents down. Iowa has increased their rotation of defensive lineman as the year has worn on, and that depth is likely to be tested. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if Iowa trots 5 defensive lineman and 2 linebackers out for a number of plays this weekend. Iowa needs to force Badger quarterback Jack Coan to beat them and stacking the box may be one of the best ways to slow down the potent Wisconsin rush attack.
This game will likely come down to a handful of drives scattered throughout the game. Iowa should keep Taylor mostly bottled up, but it is tough to see them completely shutting them down. Taylor will likely gouge Iowa for a couple of big plays and keeps the pressure on all day.
Special teams is going to play a key role this weekend. When given opportunities, Iowa will need to convert those into points. Keith Duncan may get multiple opportunities on the day, but the big key to Iowa's success in special teams will be Michael Sleep-Dalton. Iowa/Wisconsin games are always battles of field positions, and Michael Sleep-Dalton will need to give the Badgers as many long field as possible force the Wisconsin offense to string together long drives for Iowa to hang around.
Ultimately, this game is likely to be an old-school slug fest. Iowa's defense should be up to the task, but it will be really tough to keep Taylor in check all day. I don't know if the offense can do enough to hang around if Jonathon Taylor breaks off a couple of big runs. Wisconsin's defense is exceptional, and Iowa has struggled against the best defenses it has faced this year, and unless they have found something during the bye week, I just can't see an offensive explosion coming against the Wisconsin defense.
There is a path to an Iowa victory: force Jack Coan to beat you, limit Jonathan Taylor's big plays, and create openings in the run game by throwing the ball early. The key to Iowa's success may lie in finding consistent targets from the tight end position. I think Iowa hangs around in this one, and if it was in Kinnick Stadium, I think they come away with the victory. However, because of the performance Iowa had against Michigan on the road, I just can't bring myself to pick them for the upset. I hope I am wrong and will be the first to admit it if the Hawks come home from Madison with the Heartland Trophy.
Iowa puts up a great fight, and earns a ton of respect in a hard fought game, but the Badgers prove to be too much.
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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