Iowa Football

No. 18 Iowa at No. 13 Wisconsin: The Big Analysis

Iowa just hasn't shown on offense this season that it has what it takes to win at Camp Randall

No. 13 Wisconsin hosts No. 18 Iowa this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. (The Gazette)
No. 13 Wisconsin hosts No. 18 Iowa this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. (The Gazette)

Three straight, six of the last seven, eight of the last 11.

Iowa has a Wisconsin problem. The Badgers are starting to pull away from the Hawkeyes. There will be a lot of denial to this notion. The series remains relatively close at 43-47-2. The games are close. Here are the scores during this 6-1 Wisconsin stretch: 31-30 UW, 28-9 UW, 26-24 UW, 10-6 UI, 17-9 UW, 38-14 UW and 28-17 UW.

Now, throw the scores into the “game control machine” — you know, controlling the game with an efficient running game and stellar defense — and ask yourself, are they really that close? If you filter the results through the HawBad-o-meter, they’re not all that close.

An Iowa win Saturday probably doesn’t stop the clock on this. You know what you’re going to get out of Wisconsin next season. Running back Jonathan Taylor will probably be in paid football, but O-line, 3-4 defense that covers space so well at the line of scrimmage and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, whose coaching star is only gaining shine. (Good luck keeping him down on the farm, Barry.)

Iowa has good (Goodson) things, too. You know the NFL is coming to pay some Hawkeyes money for playing football. It’s almost like a tax at this point. Really, it’s hard to say what Iowa will be next year.

Good thing none of this matters Saturday. The Hawkeyes have to win four games to get to Indy and this is game 1. It just happens to be on the road against the championship model of the Big Ten West.

Did you see what the Badgers did to Michigan?

Bucky the Badger

1. The running back of justice — Jonathan Taylor is Saquon Barkley-esque. He’s a little shorter (5-11 vs. 6-0) and a little lighter (219 vs. 234), but the compact strength and speed that can stop and start seemingly without losing a step is there. Check the 72-yard TD run against Michigan. He hit a barge on the line of scrimmage, moved laterally and turned on the jets. Taylor has elite lateral quickness and is strong enough to gouge through arms and bodies on an inside zone.

 

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The line of scrimmage is one thing. Taylor has 17 receptions for 143 yards and four TDs this season. Iowa can’t ask too much out of middle linebacker Dillon Doyle in coverage, and it won’t. Still, that’s a matchup that is vulnerable. Forget that Doyle is a true freshman making his third career start. It’s Jonathan Taylor. He ran on Wisconsin’s 4x100 relay for a bit last spring.

2. The offensive line — It’s a good UW O-line. It remains to be seen if it’s great. Center Tyler Biadasz (6-3, 321) is the leader, with 35 career starts. He’s a draft pick. Junior left tackle Cole Van Lanan (6-5, 312) has nine career starts but is rounding into “Wisconsin left tackle status,” which is a draft pick. The Badgers have flipped and flopped at the guard spots, but Biadasz, Van Lanen and right tackle Logan Bruss (6-5, 310 with 13 career starts) have stabilized things.

Wisconsin’s sacks allowed were great ... going into Ohio State. The Buckeyes hung five sacks on UW, which now has allowed 15.0 this season.

3. Wisconsin’s 3-4 seems fun for 6-2-ish, 240-pound-ish dudes to play — Theory: Wisconsin’s 3-4 has unlocked a whole stream of 6-2, 240-pound athletes from mostly the Midwest. You’ll hear outside linebacker Zack Baun’s name a lot Saturday. He’s from Brown Deer, Wis. Don’t get him mixed up with inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, who’s from Deer Park, Ill.

But really, the outside linebacker talent the Badgers’ defense has unleashed is mostly Midwestern born. The other OLB will be Noah Burks (Carmel, Ind.).

Wisconsin has made a defense that is built around players it can recruit. Kind of like Barry Alavarez did with the offense. The Badgers list eight outside linebackers on their roster. Two of them come from cool places (Birmingham, Ala., and Redondo Beach, Calif.). The rest are from where you can skate outdoors in January.

4. What does this do for the Badgers’ defense? — OK, the Ohio State game was objectively awful for Wisconsin. It was a 38-7 avalanche. Still, the Badgers sacked the OSU quarterback five times.

In the postgame, Ohio State players acknowledged it took the Buckeyes time to adjust to the Badgers twisting their linebackers on blitzes.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

 

So, get ready for another week of Iowa’s guards being tested in pass pro. They’ve got to be able to come off blocks with DTs and find and affect the blitzing linebackers or ... Michigan game.

5. Relevant numbers — Wisconsin leads the nation in total defense (223.5 yards per game). It has 32.0 sacks this season. There are four games left. Taylor has 5,180 yards in just 35 career games.

Herky the Hawkeye

1. Stanley’s heartfelt homecoming — Let’s knock that bleep off. Maybe it held something in the moment in 2017, when Iowa QB Nate Stanley was a first-year starter who happened to be from Menomonie, Wis. Hey, cute, fun storyline that killed a day.

Two years later, everyone has moved on. This is a veteran starting quarterback going into his home state trying to win a football game. Nothing more.

“I think I probably put too much pressure on myself for that game,” Stanley said. “If I do my part, my teammates are going to do their part, so don’t put too much pressure on myself.”

2. We have to talk about the running game — Is there an optimal amount of rushing yardage that would help deliver a victory for Iowa? Sure, 250 yards would do it. That’s probably not happening. Here are Iowa’s rushing totals in the last five meetings vs. Wisconsin: 148, 25, 83, 144 and 101. The 144 came in 2015, the last time Iowa beat Wisconsin. Maybe 150 could be enough? Last year’s game wasn’t 28-17 like the final score said. It was 21-17 with Iowa spitting up killing turnovers.

What has to work if Iowa is held to minus-15 yards, you know, like in its Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State? Everything else has to work, but especially the defense. Also, can Iowa build off plays in the passing game if it can’t run? Yeah, it did in that bowl game.

Probably the better question is can Iowa achieve efficiency here? Still going to be a stretch.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

3. Fast start — The Badgers started 6-0 largely because they started fast against opponents. Of course, Wisconsin shut out opponents in four of those six games, but defense also is part of a fast start.

The Badgers are 24th in the country with 8.1 points in the first quarter. They also lead the nation in first quarter percentage of possession at 67.3 percent. Iowa isn’t bad here, either, checking in third with 65.9 percent possession.

Another “fast start” stat: The Badgers lead the nation allowing just 0.4 points in the first quarter (tied with Penn State). Iowa is right there, too, at 2.1 points in the first (10th in the nation).

So, fast start is going to matter, especially given the fact that Wisconsin has allowed three first-quarter points this season.

“If you look at a couple of games they’ve played this year, first of all, their non-league games were over almost before they got going,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “A quarter into it they do a really good job. If the door is open, they get in there. Two of their Big Ten games at home, I mean, it was over at halftime basically. They get up on you and then you’ve got to — you can only be so patient with the run game when you’re losing by a significant amount of points.”

4. Defending the TE — This is going to be tricky. All-Big Ten tight end is going to be a race this year. Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins is probably at the top and probably with Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson might have a say. He has 21 catches for 247 yards and a pair of TDs. He’s caught seven first-down passes this year with five of those going for first downs.

Between linebackers Djimon Colbert and Nick Niemann and safety Geno Stone, this will be a key third-down and red zone matchup.

5. Relevant numbers — With eight, Wisconsin has the second-most fumbles in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is plus-5 in turnover margin this season. In the Hawkeyes’ last five meetings with UW, that number has gone like this: minus-3, plus-1, plus-1, plus-2 (2015, the “W” during this stretch), minus-1. Iowa is No. 122 in rushing yardage on the road this season, averaging just 78.7 yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry. The game is in Camp Randall.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Prediction

Wisconsin 23, Iowa 10

Iowa just hasn’t shown on offense this season that it has what it takes to win at Wisconsin.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.