1. How are Iowa fans feeling about this game? I'm assuming y'all watched Melvin Gordon on Saturday.
Extremely nervous -- and that was the case before Melvin Gordon burned the Nebraska defense to a crisp in three quarters. Given Iowa's struggles against good teams this year (and not-so-good teams, in the case of Iowa State) and the bad matchup this game represents, this was not a game that inspired a lot of confidence in Iowa fans. Now with Gordon in imperious form and Wisconsin hitting top gear the last few weeks, this game induces even more anxiety in Iowa fans. An upset win over the Badgers would be terrific, but it's hard to envision it happening unless things get truly bizarre (like several Wisconsin fumbles bizarre).
2. What should Wisconsin fans know about Iowa's offense in terms of schemes, personnel, etc.?
Remember what Iowa did last year? It's pretty much like that. Iowa didn't exactly debut a wildly new offense this season. There's still some tension between Greg Davis' horizontal passing game and Kirk Ferentz's zone blocking running game, but the offense has been working pretty well in Big Ten play (minus the no-show performance against Minnesota). Not surprisingly, the offense has looked better the more it leans on the things Iowa has historically done well: using the zone blocking run game to set up a play-action passing attack.
Wisconsin jumps to No. 16 in Playoff rankings
After their historic takedown of the Huskers, the Badgers rose four spots in the latest Playoff rankings.
The personnel hasn't changed much, either. Despite dabbling with a quarterback controversy earlier in the season, Jake Rudock has again emerged as Iowa's starter and the man taking all of the snaps when the game is in doubt (backup C.J. Beathard has only seen action in blowouts for the last month) and he's had mostly solid performances. He's not an elite playmaker, but he's generally been effective at moving the ball for the Iowa offense and putting it in good positions to score.
Iowa's running game is led by Mark Weisman, who's doing the same Weisman-y things he's always done: plowing over opposing defenders, getting tough yards in short-yardage situations and grabbing plenty of touchdowns. Iowa's rotated a few other backs as complements to Weisman, with Jordan Canzeri and Akrum Wadley being the most effective options. Both guys offer more speed and shiftiness than Weisman and give the Iowa running game a different look.
Iowa's passing attack has spread the ball among several targets, with Kevonte Martin-Manley leading the team in receptions (39), Tevaun Smith leading the team in yards (410) and Damond Powell leading the team in touchdowns (three). Each receiver offers something a little bit different: Martin-Manley runs crisp routes and has good hands and keeps the chains moving, Smith offers a reliable weapon on the outside and Powell offers defense-stretching speed and big-play ability. And, Iowa being Iowa, they still utilize the tight end a lot as well: Jake Duzey and Ray Hamilton have combined for 406 yards and four touchdowns on 44 receptions.
3. And what about the defensive schemes, personnel, etc.?
Iowa's still running a base 4-3 defense and it's still running a lot of Cover-2. That said, compared to the Norm Parker defenses that were the standard here for a decade, Phil Parker's defenses do involve more blitzing (often out of the Raider package) and more man coverage in the secondary. Iowa's used a little more nickel in recent weeks, but against Wisconsin and the Badger rushing attack, I expect to see a lot of 4-3; Iowa's going to need a big game out of the linebackers to have a chance in this game.
Personnel-wise, it starts up front with Iowa's defensive line. Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have been rocks at defensive tackle for Iowa; Davis occupies blockers to allow Trinca-Pasat to make plays, which he's done quite well this year -- 10.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks. If Trinca-Pasat hasn't been Iowa's best defender this season, it's been Drew Ott. Ott, a defensive end, has 11.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks to go with seven QB hurries and a forced fumble. That said, Iowa's defensive line has been vulnerable to running games on the edges at times this year, with teams having a pretty good amount of success running at Nate Meier.
The other defensive standout for Iowa has been Desmond King, a returning starter at cornerback who doesn't have extraordinary stats (four pass break-ups, one interception) but who has provided solid coverage all season (though he's had a few breakdowns the last few weeks, too). The keys to Saturday's defense may lie with Iowa's linebackers (Quinton Alston, Bo Bower, Josey Jewell and Reggie Spearman) and strong safety John Lowdermilk. Iowa's linebacker play has taken a step back this season; that was partially expected with Iowa losing three experienced starters from a year ago, but the linebacker play has still been a bit weaker than Iowa fans would have hoped. Lowdermilk has had an up-and-down Iowa career, but this game may play to his strengths a bit more than usual, since he's better in run support than in coverage. Still, Iowa's going to need big games out of everyone on defense if it wants to pull off the upset on Saturday.
4. What's the current impression Hawkeyes fans have about the season to date?
Record-wise, it's basically meeting the bare minimum of expectations at 7-3. But Iowa's failed to beat a team with a winning record all season, lost at home to a terrible Iowa State team and got annihilated by Minnesota. If the Hawkeyes don't win one of their next two games, they're going to end the season without any rivalry trophies and a mediocre 7-5 record. Considering how much promise this season began with (several returning starters on both sides of the ball, very manageable schedule), that would be a pretty dismal failure. Winning at least one of the next two games would give Iowa one solid memory from this season, which it needs.
5. Do you have a prediction?
Wisconsin 31, Iowa 14. I'd love to say something different -- that Iowa will pull it all together for a big upset and its most triumphant win of the season -- but I just can't do it. I can't get past the fact that Wisconsin's overwhelming strength (the rush offense) is going to be pitted against something that's been an undeniable weakness at times for Iowa this year (the rush defense). And, unfortunately, Iowa hasn't given me enough reasons to think that the run defense might suddenly come up with its best performance of the season.