IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa and Wisconsin appear to share a mutual admiration for each other based on their similarities. It’s another year where the Big Ten rivals look a lot alike.
"I think they want to be everything that we’re trying to be," Hawkeye Senior Center Austin Blythe said.
Iowa visits the Badgers for the first time since 2009 on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN). The West Division foes like to run the ball and aim to stop the rush.
"Just the nature of the two programs, the way they want to play football and the way we want to play football, very physical, we want to be nasty up front and I think that’s how they want to play," Blythe said. "It’s going to be a hard-hitting game and we’re going to be ready to go."
The two programs have gone separate ways since the Hawkeyes captured a 20-10 victory in Madison during an 11-2 campaign in ’09. From ’10-14, Iowa posted an overall record of 34-30 and a 19-41 mark in league. Conversely, the Badgers were 50-18 and 30-10 with three divisional championships.
Iowa is 4-0 for the first time since ’09 and eager to see if it’s closed the gap between itself and what has been a standard barrier in the Big Ten for the last half decade. The No. 19 Badgers (3-1) aren’t ready to concede anything or see their nine-game winning streak in trophy games end.
“In the locker room there’s already a clock that says ‘Beat Iowa’," Wisconsin Linebacker Joe Schobert said right after Saturday’s 28-0 win against Hawaii. "Everybody knows we have to flip the page and get ready for the physical play because every week in Big Ten play there’s the potential that someone can knock you off. We can’t take a second off.”
Schobert leads a stingy Badgers defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown since a season-opening, 35-17 loss to Alabama in Dallas. The unit’s streak without allowing an opponent to cross the goal line is at 188 minutes, 2 seconds.
The game shapes up as one in which the defenses will make it tough to move the ball. Wisconsin ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (9.5 PPG) and Iowa sits at 28 (17.8).
And the hardest thing to do might be running ball. The Badgers are 11th in the country in fewest rushing yards allowed (82.8 YPG) and the Hawkeyes are 12th (84.0).
"I think they’ve got very good players and I think that they understand and know their scheme, and I think the scheme is a good scheme, and so I think anytime you’ve got a good scheme with good players, it makes it a good defense," said Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst when asked why Iowa has been stout against the run.
Said Iowa Quarterback C.J. Beathard: "They’ve got a veteran secondary. They’ve got a lot of older guys on that defense, defensive line, linebackers. They’re a really good defense. They’re fundamentally sound. We just have to go out there and try to out execute them and play our best football. We know we’re not going to score every drive but we’ve got to continue to keep pushing and keep fighting throughout the game."
Running Back Melvin Gordon proved to be a key factor in pushing the Badgers by Iowa a year ago. The now San Diego Charger exploded for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries to go with four receptions for 64 yards.
Gordon’s back-up last season, Corey Clement, was expected to carry the bulk of the load in ’15. He underwent sports hernia surgery last week and will miss the Iowa game.
Taiwan Deal, who held a Hawkeye scholarship offer, was named the conference’s freshman of the week after running for 147 yards and two scores against Hawaii. Dare Ogunbowale has rushed for 281 yards and two touchdowns this season on 48 carries (5.9 YPC).
"It does seem like they rely a little more on the pass than they have in past years but it’s still Wisconsin and it’s still a power offense," Iowa Linebacker Cole Fisher said.
Iowa likes to take it one game at a time and treat each opponent equally but this week’s match-up is seen as a measuring stick.
"It’s a huge first game, especially being on the same side (of the Big Ten)," Fisher said. "To get a jump up in the West, especially over them, that’d be a huge first win. So, that’s what we’re trying to get to."
Time, TV, Announcers: 11 a.m. CT on ESPN with Steve Levy, Brock Huard and Shannon Spake.
The Series: Wisconsin holds a 44-42-2 edge after last year’s 26-24 win in Iowa City.
Betting Line: Wisconsin opened as a 9-point favorite, a number that dropped into the 6.5-7 range as of Wednesday.
-Wisconsin is 5-2 Against The Spread in its last seven home games.
-Iowa is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 road games.
Match-up to Watch: Trickery and exotic play calls will be limited in this game. The two teams will know what the other is doing most times so it comes down to the dreaded cliche – execution.
As good as Iowa’s front seven has performed against the run this season, North Texas managed to wiggle free for 183 yards last week. The Hawkeyes could have been sitting on the pass with a big lead, but allowing the opponent to succeed with the rush is a no-no for them.
"We have to get better at that," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game. "I thought the (North Texas) tempo affected us a little bit, particularly in the second half. It just didn’t seem like we were crisp taking on the run the way we need to.
"We’ve done a really good job of that for three weeks, but (Saturday) it looked like we were off our game a little bit."
As we mentioned in the opening, the Badgers run the football well and have for a long time. Much like Iowa, it sets up their passing game and makes it an effective attack.
Wisconsin features a massive offensive line that looks to overpower the opposition. The Hawkeyes must play assignment football with strong leverage.
Take Note: Iowa is one of only two schools (Navy) in the country yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
Take Note, Take Two: The Hawkeyes are trying to improve to 5-0 for the first time since ’09 and the fourth time under Ferentz.
Non-Sports Related: The World’s Largest Brat Fest, hosted in Madison each Memorial Day weekend, has sold 3,003,435 brats since 1983 and has raised $1,092,698 for charities in that same time frame.
Did You Know?: Madison is one of only two U.S. cities (Seattle) built on an isthmus – a narrow strip of land, bordered on both sides by water, connecting two larger bodies of land.
Did You Also Know?: Otis Redding, singer of the song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay," passed away when his plane crashed into Lake Monona in 1967.
Wisconsin Wins If… it stops Iowa’s running game.
Iowa Wins If… it stops Wisconsin’s running game.
Overview: The Hawkeyes had won six of eight meetings against Wisconsin before the fake-punt game in ’10. The Badgers dominated the ’13 game, 28-9, and led last year’s contest 16-3 at halftime. Iowa came to life after the intermission before falling short on an electric night in Kinnick Stadium.
A few Hawkeyes mentioned this week that last year’s loss to Wisconsin stuck with them because of how close they came. They recalled plays here or there that could have swung it in their favor. Who knows how the team would have been remembered had it pulled off that upset and not collapsed against Nebraska the next week?
An opportunity to avoid another what-might-have-been scenario stares Iowa in the face again. The outcome in Madison won’t decide the season but it could determine whether or not this is a special campaign.
I’ve obviously watched every minute of the Hawkeyes in ’15. I’ve also caught quite a bit of Wisconsin through four weeks.
Like many years, these teams are fairly evenly matched. It appears destined to be a game decided in the fourth quarter.
After predicting Iowa to lose this game before the season, I feel much better about its chances now. I think the Hawkeyes have the more balanced offense and a better play-maker at quarterback. Move over, I’m hopping on the bandwagon.
Prediction: IOWA 20, Wisconsin 17.