Preview: Wisconsin at Iowa
The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (5-4, 3-3) vs the Iowa Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3)
The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
The TV coverage: FS1 with Jeff Levering and Petros Papadakis on the call
The last time: Wisconsin racked up six sacks and forced three turnovers on its way to a 27-7 win last season in Madison
The series: Wisconsin leads 49-44-2
The line: Wisconsin -1.5
THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH
1) For the West
Wisconsin and Iowa haven’t had the seasons either side expected with both going through struggles that have led to identical records overall and in Big Ten play. And yet, as the season reaches the middle of November, the Badgers and Hawkeyes still have a shot at winning the West Division. That’s thanks to Michigan State upsetting Illinois on the road last week. It left a four-way tie for second place in the division. While neither side controls its fate and likely needs a couple more losses by the Illini, the stakes for Saturday’s game took a step up and should lead to an even more lively environment in Iowa City.
2) Smothering defense
The Wisconsin offense will face an immense challenge in trying to move the ball and score against the Iowa defense. Normally one of the stingier units in the country, this version of the Hawkeyes may be the best group the Badgers have seen. They rank in the top 10 in the country in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring defense. On the year, Iowa has allowed 129 points, with 81 of those coming in two games against Ohio State and Michigan. Against everyone else, they are allowing 6.9 points per game.
The Badgers have found success on offense over the last month and should have its preferred starting offensive line for a second straight week. But it’ll be an uphill battle against a stout defensive line, All-Big Ten linebacker Jack Campbell and an opportunistic secondary.
3) Just offensive
As good as Iowa’s defense has been, the offense has been as bad as any in the country for most of the year. They sit near dead last in a number of offensive categories including scoring (125th), rushing (119th), passing (120th) and total offense (129th). Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been under fire the last few seasons but the anger at the head coach’s son has reached new levels this year.
However, they’ve been better the last two weeks against some not-so-great defenses in Northwestern and Purdue. A running game that was non-existent came to life with freshman Kaleb Johnson running for 293 yards, while senior quarterback Spencer Petras has played turnover free football in back-to-back games. A healthier wide receiver core to go along with talented tight end Sam LaPorta give Iowa some hope. Still, Wisconsin is near 100-percent on defense for the first time this season and the group should suffocate the Hawkeyes.
4) Turnovers the difference
It’s been pretty simple to determine why these two teams win or lose games. Look at the turnovers. In Wisconsin’s five wins they average .4 turnovers, while in its four losses that number jumps to 2.25. For Iowa, it’s also .4 in wins, while the average number of turnovers in its losses is 2.5.
Both defenses have been turnover hungry in recent weeks as they’ve each taken the ball away from the opposing offense eight times over the last four games and Wisconsin ranks second in the country with 15 interceptions on the year.
It seems fair to say whichever quarterback can protect the ball better figures to be the one smiling at the end of the game while taking pictures with the Heartland Trophy.
5) The weather
A week ago, strong winds and rain played a major role in games across the Big Ten. While Saturday doesn’t appear to have the rain or wind gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour, the 10 to 15 miles per hour winds expected for Iowa City will combine with temperatures in the 20s to make for Wisconsin’s first true cold game of the season. It means tougher passing conditions and could impact the kicking game as well.
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
— Two significant numbers from Scott Dochterman, who covers Iowa for The Athletic:
1) Nine of Wisconsin’s 16 touchdowns in the last five games between the two teams have come off Iowa turnovers
2) The team that runs for more yards is 19-2 in the last 21 meetings
— Saturday marks the first of three straight games for Wisconsin with a rivalry trophy – the Heartland Trophy (Iowa), the Freedom Trophy (Nebraska) and Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Minnesota) — on the line. The Badgers are 25-4 in their last 29 rivalry games.
— Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig leads the Big Ten in sacks with 8.0. He accounted for 2.5 of the Badgers six sacks against Iowa last season.
— The Badgers have 20 plays of 30 or more yards this season, including four plays of 70 yards or more. The Iowa defense has allowed just five plays of 30 or more yards.
— Iowa has one of the best punters in the country in Tory Taylor. He has dropped 41% of his 55 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Zach Heilprin’s (6-3, 5-4 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 13
Ebo’s (4-5, 4-5 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 21, Iowa 14
Nelson Raisbeck’s (5-4, 4-5 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 10
RJ Brachman’s (5-4, 2-7 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 17, Iowa 10
Ben Kenney’s (5-4, 3-6 ATS) prediction: Iowa 18, Wisconsin 14