116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Sam LaPorta certainly didn’t mind the bye week.
“I kicked my feet up a lot,” Iowa’s starting tight end said Tuesday. “And I watched football … which is ironic because you get away from football by watching more football.”
LaPorta won’t be kicking his feet up this week, though.
Iowa will open a five-gave stretch after the bye week that head coach Kirk Ferentz compared to a 400-meter sprint with a familiar rival: Wisconsin.
“It’s a lot of fun,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “These are the games you really look forward to.”
The series, which has been an annual occurrence since the Big Ten reorganized its divisions in 2014, has been relatively competitive in recent history.
Seven of the last 10 matchups between the Hawkeyes and Badgers have been decided by one or two possessions.
“All of our games are really competitive,” Petras said.
The rivals from opposite sides of the Mississippi River usually have similar, physical styles of play.
“You might get run out of the stadium if you’re not ready to go,” Ferentz said with a smile. “You know it’s going to be a battle.”
Both teams traditionally have strong offensive and defensive fronts, grueling defenses, effective running backs and pocket passers at quarterback. Ferentz compared the similarities between the Big Ten West rivals to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the early 2000s.
“They pretty much knew what each other were going to do,“ Ferentz said.
Fast forward to 2021, and Ferentz knows what the Badgers are going to do.
“When you watch his football team, it’s what you’d expect,” Ferentz said of the Badgers and head coach Paul Chryst. “They’re a big team, physical team, athletic team. … Just like you’d expect, they want to feature the run.”
Ferentz thinks the Badgers “got an idea of what we’re going to do,” too.
Iowa and Wisconsin are the only rush defenses in the Big Ten to allow fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. Wisconsin’s 1.9 yards per carry allowed is the best in the country, and Iowa’s 2.7 yards per carry allowed is sixth.
The Big Ten rivals also have the two best centers in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum is first for the second straight season. Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann is a distant second.
The commonalities pose quite the figurative chess match between Ferentz and Chryst.
“There is that spy-versus-spy stuff,” Ferentz said. “You don’t know what you’re going to start out thinking of each other.”
Not everything between the two teams is similar this year, though.
Every Wisconsin starter on the offensive line is either 6-foot-4 or taller, compared to just three of Iowa’s five starters.
“Their linebackers can play center,” Ferentz said. “Probably bigger than Linderbaum.”
While Wisconsin continues to run the ball effectively with 4.7 yards per carry, Iowa’s running game has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
Iowa’s familiarity with Wisconsin extends to the noise its fans will bring to Camp Randall Stadium.
“We have to do a good job of trying to take away their momentum and taking the air out of the crowd,” running back Tyler Goodson said.
The 80,321 people Camp Randall Stadium can hold “just want to see you fail,” Petras said.
“That fires me up a little bit,” Petras said. “It’s fun.”
It’ll be Iowa’s second game this season with a trophy at stake. The Heartland Trophy has been in Iowa City since last year’s win, but the trophy had been in Madison for seven of the previous eight years.
“You always want to bring the trophy back to home,” Goodson said.
He’s trying not to think too much about the trophy with a bronze bull, though.
“You have to try to get the trophy out of your mind because out of your mind going into the game and realize that it’s just another game,” Goodson said.
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