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3 keys, prediction for Iowa football against Wisconsin
Iowa going up against team ‘that's really good at capitalizing on things you do wrong’
The last time the Wisconsin Badgers stepped foot in Kinnick Stadium, Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette did a front flip into the end zone for a touchdown and the Hawkeyes took back the Heartland Trophy for the first time in five years.
Here are three keys for Iowa to have another reason to celebrate Saturday, perhaps without the front flip:
Who plays mistake-free football?
Iowa suffered some self-inflicted wounds in recent games against Wisconsin.
An Ivory Kelly-Martin fumble and Max Cooper muffed punt last year set up Wisconsin with drives at Iowa’s 1-yard line and 18-yard line, respectively. Both resulted in Wisconsin touchdown drives in Iowa’s 20-point loss.
In 2019, the Badgers recovered a fumble caused by a bad snap between Tyler Linderbaum and Nate Stanley in Iowa territory. The Badgers scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive in Iowa’s two-point loss.
Minimizing those types of mistakes will be crucial against the Badgers.
“Ball security, special teams miscues — to think that we're going to experience those Saturday and be victorious, that's not realistic,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “That's every game, but especially when you're playing in a game like this where you've got a team that's really good at capitalizing on things you do wrong.”
How much can Iowa’s defense keep Graham Mertz out of sync?
It’s no secret Wisconsin can run the ball effectively. Its first-team running back Braelon Allen has rushed for at least 100 yards in five of the last six games.
It’s also no secret Wisconsin’s passing attack has historically been inconsistent.
When Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz is accurate, the Badgers have done well.
In the 14 games since last year’s Heartland Trophy game, the Badgers are 8-0 when Mertz completes at least 60 percent of his passes. When he doesn’t reach the 60 percent mark, Wisconsin is 1-5 in that same window.
The Overland Park, Kan., native completed only half his passes against Iowa last year, but his 10-for-16 first half contributed to the Badgers’ insurmountable, 20-0, lead at halftime.
How much protection does Spencer Petras have?
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras had his best performance of the season two weeks ago against Northwestern and another solid outing last week against Purdue.
The protection ahead of Petras has been a key factor in his recent success. When he completed 70 percent of his passes against the Wildcats, he only had one sack.
His completion percentage dipped to 57 percent against Purdue as he took three sacks.
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, Wisconsin’s pass rush is not quite as potent as it was last year. The Badgers ranked second in the Big Ten in sacks in 2021, but now they rank ninth in the conference.
What’s at stake
A Big Ten West title did not seem realistic for Iowa or Wisconsin a few weeks earlier, but each team’s two-game win streaks and Illinois’ loss to Michigan State has put a trip to Indianapolis on both teams’ radars.
A win Saturday against Wisconsin is essential for Iowa to keep any hopes of a Big Ten West crown alive. Iowa technically could still have a path to a division title if it loses to Wisconsin, depending on whether Purdue beats Illinois, but it would be highly improbable.
The Hawkeyes would clinch bowl eligibility for the 10th consecutive year with a win against Wisconsin. Otherwise, they will have two more opportunities to earn bowl eligibility against Minnesota on the road and Nebraska at home.
Saturday also serves as an opportunity to bring the Heartland Trophy back to Iowa City. Wisconsin has won five of the last six and eight of the last 10 games in the border-state rivalry.
Iowa’s defense kept Purdue out of the end zone last week, and Graham Mertz is no Aidan O’Connell.
Iowa 13, Wisconsin 10