This is the rivalry renewed. Kwik Trip versus Quik Trip. Austin Aries versus Big E Langston. The John Birch Society versus Chuck Grassley. And friends, Iowa's coming at this with confidence after a hard-fought win against a reeling Northwestern team. The Hawkeyes are one win away from bowl eligiblity, and they still have the bad taste of 2010 in their mouths. Could we see an upset?
Well, Iowa's offense is coming into this game pretty well healthy. So run-wise, expect them to try and throw Marc Weisman in as a battering ram to wear down the defense. Damon Bullock's worked it into a time share, and we will see Bullock attempt some lightning on the Badger defense. Iowa is going to try and split 40 carries between some combination of Bullock, Weisman and quarterback Jake Rudock.
That being said, we know how good the Badgers' defense has been against the run. And while Iowa's had some good moments running the ball (246 yards versus Minnesota's decent rush defense, getting 4.81 yards per carry against Ohio State), it's also had some underperforming days against teams a truly good rush offense would eat alive. If Chris Borland's truly healthy and not coming back too soon, I have confidence that the Badgers can shut down Iowa against the run.
Versus the pass, Jake Rudock has some weapons to throw to. He'll lean on Kevonte Martin-Manley, who has almost doubled Iowa's second-place receiver in terms of catches. After that, it's a hodgepodge. You'll see passes go to C.J. Fiedorowicz (he's the red-zone threat), Tevaun Smith, Damon Bullock and Jake Duzey. They're a sort of find-who's-open-and-throw-to-them team. And while Damond Powell isn't going to see as much time on the field, he's an explosive athlete who's put up a 27-yard per-catch average on his nine grabs.
Suppose then it's a question for the Badgers if they're not going to let Rudock get rolling. They've had success in their 3-4 hybrid with Michael Caputo as a linebacker and Tanner McEvoy as a safety, and with Iowa's tendency to use its tight ends, McEvoy's size will limit the match-up problems on obvious passing situations. The best news for the Badgers comes from Rudock's propensity to throw an interception. He has eight on the year, and he's thrown one in each of the last four games. Long story short, Rudock's going to have to have his best game of the year if Iowa is to pull the upset.
Because if there's any sort of phrase to describe Iowa defensively, it's the classic defense that stays at home. The Hawkeyes don't make many big plays in the backfield (tied for 92nd in tackles for loss, tied for 68th in sacks), but they will limit your first downs. They're 13th nationally. In fact, the fun delineation for their season is this: the opponent gets 20 first downs? Iowa will lose. (Northern Illinois and Michigan State each got to 20. Ohio State got 30). Iowa is unbeaten when it holds a team under 20.
In fact, Northwestern got to 19.
Anyway, this sort of defense means the Iowa fan has to be worried about the jet sweep. And not just because Dominic Alvis is questionable. This a defense that can be opened up when you have someone with the athleticism to get to the corner. Melvin Gordon is that guy. It's almost inevitable he breaks one.
James White might have a longer day with his runs, but that being said, you know he provides a great service in the passing game making sure that a passing defensive strategy can't be boiled down to only two words. Jared Abbrederis thanks him, and I know you do, too. But honestly, where the game could well turn is on a mistimed throw from either quarterback.
Joel Stave had his most efficient game of the year against Illinois. (I don't care if a couple of his five incompletions looked bad. HE HAD FIVE INCOMPLETIONS AND NO INTERCEPTIONS). But the big play Iowa's defense does best is interceptions. B.J. Lowery has returned two for scores, and it is among the myriad of things James Morris is in filling the stats sheet with. If this is going to be easy for Bucky, Stave is going to have to help the cause and go pickless again.
Long story short, though? The Badgers should get the 20 first downs that's apparently necessary for the Badgers to get the win. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard-fought. It might get messy, especially on special teams. But on paper, this looks like another win for the Badgers