IOWA CITY — It’s time for the biggest game of the year.
Maybe it’s not starting great for the No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) if you just go off the depth chart Iowa released Monday.
Maybe senior linebacker Kristian Welch, sophomore guard Kyler Schott and senior tight end Nate Wieting make it to the field for Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff at No. 16 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2). The fact they’re not listed on the depth chart means their availability is in limbo. Maybe, maybe not and/or probably not.
Wide receiver Brandon Smith was never going to be ready this week. He suffered an ankle/foot injury vs. Purdue. At the time, head coach Kirk Ferentz said “three to five weeks.” This weekend is week 3 so it’s probably asking too much. Smith was still in a boot immobilizer last week.
Wieting was the starter at TE, but suffered some sort of strain going into Northwestern and missed the game. True freshman Sam LaPorta took snaps and impressed as a receiver, catching two passes for 43 yards. The Hawkeyes would miss Wieting’s blocking against the Badgers.
Schott jumped into the lineup in the opener, started two games and then suffered a foot injury and hasn’t seen action since Iowa State. Iowa could use help at the guard position, especially this week.
Welch suffered a stinger against Penn State and has missed the last two games. Redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle has both of the starts and has seen most of the action, including 64 snaps against Northwestern.
“At the end of the day, this game has always been about who can stop the run,” Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace said. “That’s been our trademark (over the last 20-plus years under Ferentz). Stop the run and see where it goes from there.”
— The betting line knows this and it likes the team with the running back who had nearly 2,200 yards in 2018. The Badgers are favored by 8 points at Camp Randall Stadium, where the Hawkeyes have won two or their last three games.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is second to Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins in the Big Ten rushing race (1,110 yards to 1,009). Taylor also is second in the Big Ten in yards from scrimmage (144.0). The Badgers lead the nation in time of possession (36:55).
— You want a number to feel good about from the Iowa perspective? The Hawkeyes did rush for 148 yards against Wisconsin last season. Yes, a wide receiver reverse accounted for 20 of those, but the Hawkeyes did make a running game out of Ivory Kelly-Martin’s 72-yard performance.
So, Iowa did have some success on the ground last season. Of course, the Badgers allow just 2.8 yards per carry and 84.1 rushing yards per game.
Let’s not kid anyone. It’s hard to see Iowa having success on the ground. Through five conference games, Iowa is 12th in the league in rushing at 98.0 yards per game with 2.85 yards per carry. These numbers are worse than the 2012 Hawkeyes (106.6 per game, 3.3 per carry), who went 4-8.
Eight games in, you kind of are what the numbers say you are. In September, Iowa rushed for 870 yards (fourth in the B1G during that span). In October, Iowa finished with 296, facing two ranked opponents (Michigan and Penn State) and two lower-echelon Big Ten teams this season (Purdue and Northwestern). That was good for 12th in the league during that time.
“Of course, you would like for it to be better,” running backs coach Derrick Foster said last week. “Where can we improve on some things? Maybe we can fix our eyes and get them in the right places. Make sure we’re pressing our ending points. I’m pleased, but I’m not satisfied. We can always get better. That’s the constant word that we’ve heard. We can definitely improve.”
In that vein, you want one Iowa player to feel good about on offense? True freshman running back Tyler Goodson showed his receiving skills in the month of October, catching 10 passes for 116 yards. His 19 receptions are fourth on the team.
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“The kid’s hungry,” Foster said. “He’s willing to learn. He accepts coaching and responsibility.”
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