State Journal beat reporter Colten Bartholomew breaks down the Badgers' matchup with the Hawkeyes. UW has won the battle for the Heartland Trophy the past three seasons.
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
Jonathan Taylor will be itching to get things going against the Hawkeyes after his lowest output of the season against Ohio State and a bye week. The offense has struggled in recent weeks without the junior tailback’s big plays, and the sledding doesn’t get easier against the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s run defense is the eighth-best in the Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing 87.8 yards per game.
UW quarterback Jack Coan (above) was under siege against the Buckeyes, as he was sacked five times. That pressure effectively negated what the Badgers could do through the air. He should have more time against Iowa, which isn’t as talented up front as OSU, but UW must protect Coan better to have a chance to move the ball.
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa is a premier pass-rusher, and will be a good test for the offensive line. Senior linebacker Kristian Welch, an Iola native, leads the Hawkeyes with 47 tackles, but won’t play due to injury, per Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. Senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia has two interceptions and six pass breakups this year, leading the 12th-best pass defense (178.1 ypg allowed) in the country.
EDGE | PUSH
WHEN THE HAWKEYES HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Nate Stanley (above), a Menomonie product, is not having a great year for Iowa, completing 60.7 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. However, he is generating plays with his mobility, as Iowa utilizes his athleticism with bootlegs and designed roll-outs, and his TD total would be better if the Hawkeyes threw it more inside the 10 instead of leaning on the ground game. Losing two tight ends to the NFL — first-round picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant — also hurt Stanley’s production.
The Hawkeyes, who run most plays out of the I-formation, are averaging 24.4 points per game. A trio of running backs — Mekhi Sargent (98 carries, 443 yards, 4 TDs), former Monona Grove standout Toren Young (62-357-1) and Tyler Goodson (64-316-1) — carry the load in the backfield. Iowa’s run game presents a challenge to the Badgers, who need to tackle better than what they showed against Illinois and Ohio State to avoid big plays from biting them again.
UW should be able to use its base 3-4 defense more often against the Hawkeyes, which should help free up linebackers in the run game.
EDGE | UW
Alexander Smith’s blocked punt against Ohio State was UW’s first since 2014, and a highlight for a special teams unit that has struggled at times.
Aron Cruickshank (above) has only had nine kick returns this season, but he’s popped two of them of 44 and 38 yards.
Iowa’s Keith Duncan is 19 of 22 on field goals this season, including 10 of 12 from 40-49 yards. In a game that shapes up to be a tight one, Duncan’s accuracy is a big factor in converting drives into points — a luxury UW can’t always count on with Collin Larsh, who is 6 of 10 on field goals this year.
EDGE | IOWA
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (above) is the longest-tenured coach in FBS, and is the only coach who was hired by his school in the 1990s. He and UW coach Paul Chryst have similar styles on the field and in constructing a coaching staff — continuity matters.
UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has worked with Chryst for more than a decade, while Ferentz has longtime assistant Phil Parker as defensive coordinator for an eighth season and his son, Brian, as the offensive coordinator. Brian Ferentz played at Iowa before a career in the NFL as a player and a coach. Both teams are coming off of bye weeks, giving both coaching staffs time to correct mistakes and make adjustments.
EDGE | PUSH
Both teams are desperate for a win. Both sit at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten Conference. With four games remaining in the regular season, the Hawkeyes and Badgers are very much in the running for a Big Ten West Division title, but would need to win out to give themselves a chance to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Game.
UW is unbeaten at home this year, and is playing its first home game since Oct. 12. With their chances at a conference championship hanging in the balance, expect UW to ride the home-crowd energy.
EDGE | UW
STATE JOURNAL'S PICK
There’s more talent on the Badgers’ sideline — the results of the past two weeks don’t change that.
But finding a way to utilize that talent is going to be key, and two weeks to prepare should be more than enough time for Chryst and Rudolph to get things together offensively.
Jim Leonhard won’t allow Iowa’s simple yet effective offense to create big plays, and UW keeps the Heartland Trophy.
BADGERS 20, HAWKEYES 10
THE NUMBER (UW)
5: Turnovers in the last two games for the Badgers after giving the ball away four times in the first six games
THE NUMBER (IOWA)
36: Total penalties for the Hawkeyes, whose 34.9 yards per game lost from penalties is fifth-fewest in the nation
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Rushing offense: UW is down to 25th in the nation at 216.4 rushing yards per game, and coming off its first game in which it failed to rush for 100 yards since 2017
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
Sacks allowed: Iowa has given up 18 sacks this season (2.25 per game), so UW’s improved rush should be able to put pressure on Stanley
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