Iowa Football

Play Action: No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers at Iowa Hawkeyes

If Iowa is sick of its station in the Big Ten West, now is the time to do something about it

Iowa hosts No. 16 Wisconsin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)
Iowa hosts No. 16 Wisconsin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)

Iowa (3-0) plays host to No. 16 Wisconsin (2-1) this week. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on Fox.

The Badgers’ Vibe

1. What is Wisconsin sweating? — It was just one loss. The Badgers are 0-0 in the Big Ten West. Their chase for three straight is intact. We’ll see how it goes Saturday night.

Wisconsin is probably sweating its defense, where the Badgers are replacing seven returning starters. Last week, BYU made the eyes of the Badgers’ defense swim. Was it going to be a jet sweep? Was it going to be running back Squally Canada between the tackles?

BYU averaged 3.6 yards per carry going into the game last weekend at Camp Randall. The Cougars rushed 28 times for 191 yards and two TDs. That’s 6.82 yards per carry. That’s the most vs. the Badgers since Oregon averaged 8.6 yards on 40 carries in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

Canada’s 46-yard run in the fourth quarter set up BYU’s winning field goal.

2. On Alex Hornibrook — He kind of reminds me of former Iowa QB Jake Rudock.

All QBs on this level have big arms. Not all are accurate. Not all can anticipate. Hornibrook, a junior, has thrown just two interceptions this season. He threw 15 last year and seven in his first season as starter. That’s 24 for his career.

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A lot of good QBs threw a lot of picks last season. Penn State’s Trace McSorley threw 10. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson threw 12.

Rudock threw 13 interceptions in his first season as starter. He finished his career with 27. Teams that play the style Iowa and Wisconsin play can’t live like this and get to the College Football Playoff.

Last week, Hornibrook threw an interception in the second half that a lot of people are pointing at as the reason. This week, whichever QB manages what probably will be heavy-pressure situations has a great chance of winning. The QBs can wear “Hello, my name is Game Manager” stickers on their jerseys. The winning team won’t care and neither will the winning QB.

3. Jonathan Taylor still is there — The 5-11, 221-pounder from Salem, N.J., has averaged 171.7 yards per game in the Badgers' first three games.

It’s Western Kentucky, New Mexico and BYU, so weigh this how you want, but Taylor is ahead of the pace he set for himself last season as a true freshman. He finished 2017 averaging 141.2 yards a game, 41 more yards than the No. 2 rusher (Northwestern’s Justin Jackson). The 171.7 this year is a little more than 41 yards ahead of No. 2 (Indiana’s Stevie Scott).

You fall back to the simple elements in games like this. Taylor has remained sharp. How will the Badgers’ offensive line deal with Iowa’s defense? This is the Badgers’ cleanest path to a win, the pure power of the offense Barry Alvarez brought to Madison forever ago.

4. Yes, special teams let Wisconsin down last week — Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal with 36 seconds left that would’ve tied BYU.

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Wisconsin will probably keep him around. Gaglianone has made 29 of his last 33 field goals dating back to the 2015 Holiday Bowl.

Punter Anthony Lotti has dropped five of his nine punts inside the opponents’ 20.

5. Holy goodness gracious, the winning — This is the part of the Tour de France where the one guy breaks away from the peloton.

Yes, Iowa-Wisconsin is a close, congenial (for the most part) series. It’s about the grunting under heavy pressure that puts some drama in this tug o’ war.

There are some facts Iowa people need to digest:

— The Badgers have won seven of the last 10 against Iowa.

— The Badgers are 14-1 in true road games under head coach Paul Chryst, including nine straight (second longest streak in the nation behind Oklahoma’s 17).

— The Badgers have won 15 consecutive regular-season Big Ten games, the longest streak in school history.

— Wisconsin has won 17 of its last 18 trophy games.

Iowa is playing catch up.

What’s Happening With The Hawkeyes?

1. All on the O-line — Let’s see what offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and O-line coach Tim Polasek came up with.

So far with Ferentz as offensive coordinator, the Hawkeyes’ offense has been pretty terrific or totally buried. It really feels like all or nothing. The Hawkeyes tore apart Ohio State with 487 yards and almost 7 yards per play. The next week, Wisconsin happened and it was just 66 total yards, Iowa’s worst output since 1944 and the fewest yards Wisconsin has ever allowed in a Big Ten game.

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If Iowa goes punchless, well, you’ll know for a fact that the offense only exists to protect the defense. Don’t cry about it if that works. I’m sure you won’t. And just look at 2015 for a game in which that worked. One of the bigger stats in that game was Iowa’s 144 rushing yards. It kept the chains and the clock moving just enough.

2. Third and whoa daddy — This part kind of goes toward the O-line, too. Sorry guys, you’re in the crosshairs of a defense that has managed to keep you in a jar for the last three years.

The Hawkeyes were 0 of 13 on third down last season at Camp Randall. They were 2 of 13 in 2016. In the last two games against Wisconsin, Iowa has gained 3 yards on those 26 third-down plays. The Badgers have sacked Iowa five times on these third downs. Iowa rushed nine times for minus-18 yards and completed 3 of 11 passes for 21 yards.

That’s not anemic. That’s a heart beating Kool-Aid on the money down.

Wisconsin runs its 3-4 and a 4-3 almost 50/50 so far this season. Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel likely is out with a foot injury. Iowa has seen this already in 2018. Iowa State ran multiple fronts at Iowa two weeks ago.

If Iowa can’t protect QB Nate Stanley on third down, that’s going to be bad. It’s not going to be easy, either. The Badgers have clearly kept Iowa off balance on offense since incorporating the 3-4 scheme in 2013.

Does Wisconsin have that kind of athleticism at linebacker this season?

3. The gaps — You’ve seen Iowa play dominant defense in the first three weeks of the season.

Wisconsin is a very different test. The Badgers have three offensive linemen — guards Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter and right tackle David Edwards — and running back Jonathan Taylor earn some sort of all-American honor last season.

The recipe hasn’t changed. These guys still do their big and “probably more athletic than you think” thing.

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In the spring, Iowa D-tackle coach Reese Morgan said if there was one thing that Iowa had to sweat on the D-line, it probably was size in the middle.

Iowa probably plays four DTs Saturday — Matt Nelson (6-8, 295), Sam Brincks (6-5, 275), Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295) and Brady Reiff (6-3, 272).

There are going to be pancakes. That’s what the Badgers do. This is going to be deep sea free diving for the Hawkeyes up front. Iowa’s D-line is going to have to do a lot of work and it’s probably literally going to be fighting for every breath.

It’s been Iowa’s most dominant group. If that stands at the end of Saturday night, Iowa probably has a steer in the trophy case.

4. Eye on personnel — Iowa has been fairly traditional on both sides of the ball in the first few weeks as far as personnel packages go.

Iowa’s offense is going to route through the tight ends. The Hawkeyes have run 22 (two backs, two TEs) and 12 (one back, two TEs) for the majority of their snaps this season. Pressure is on the wide receivers to grow depth and perform. They have to be there for Stanley.

The mystery box for Iowa is the running game. Yes, the Hawkeyes are averaging just 3.89 yards per carry, but they've rushed for 200-plus twice and have already produced seven rushing TDs. Iowa’s running game has been what it’s needed it to be. Attempts will be as important as yards.

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Defensively, Iowa’s go-to sub package this year seems to be the pass-rush D-line with ends Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa and tackles Parker Hesse and Chauncey Golston. Beyond that, they’ve run one dime package.

5. Relevant numbers — Iowa’s 12 sacks are second in the Big Ten (Penn State has 13) and third in the nation. Epenesa leads the Hawkeyes with 4.0.

Iowa is 11-2 in its last 13 trophy games.

We haven’t forgotten about you, linebacker position. The Hawkeyes have had five different linebackers make their first career start this season. Iowa has started a different trio every week.

And still is 3-0 heading into the biggest game of the season.

Prediction

Wisconsin 27, Iowa 21

I have to see it to believe it. Remember, I saw 66 yards live.

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

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