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Wisconsin football: Badgers' run game set to face tough Iowa defense

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Iowa's rushing defense is among the best in the Big Ten. On Saturday, that may present a challenge for the Badgers.

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

In Wisconsin's first chance to go against a stout run defense, the results were not nearly what the team could have hoped for.

The Alabama defense held the Badgers to 40 yards on 21 carries on Sept. 5 at AT&T Stadium -- 25 of which on a fourth quarter end-around by redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson. Since then, the Badgers' rebuilding run game gained 188, 199 and 326 yards on the ground -- led by redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal -- in three non-conference victories against clearly lesser rush defenses.

As their Big Ten-opening showdown on Saturday with Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium approaches, the Badgers are looking to produce better results than in their first showdown with a formidable front seven. And for one key offensive piece, confidence as the challenge presents itself is no challenge.

"Up front, it's going to be a big game in the trenches," Ogunbowale said. "So our O-line, D-line, is gonna step up. And you know that we're going to have a big game."

Iowa ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total rush defense. Through four games -- all wins -- the Hawkeyes have allowed an average of 84 rushing yards per game and no touchdowns on the ground. Their opponents' yards-per-carry average of 2.6 is tied with Michigan for best in the conference.

"They're physical, very technically-sound," senior tight end Austin Traylor said. "I mean, they're going to play well with their hands and they react well. Obviously, the goal up front in this game is to control the line of scrimmage. If we can do that, we can have a successful game."

When these two teams meet to battle for the Heartland Trophy, it's almost assuredly going to involve black-and-blue, smash mouth football. The physical ramifications are sure to carry over at least to the day after the game.

"Be prepared to be sore on Sunday," running backs coach John Settle told his players Tuesday. "It's going to be a physical match up. But people come to Wisconsin to play in those types of games, or at least I hope that's why they chose to come to Wisconsin."

Even without junior running back Corey Clement for the fourth straight week with a sports hernia injury, the Badgers' backfield is up for the opposition the Hawkeyes will bring Saturday. When told they had not allowed a rushing touchdown all season, Ogunbowale added he and Deal were "going to try to make sure we get us a couple rushing touchdowns."

In last season's meeting between the two rivals, Wisconsin was able to run the ball with success. Melvin Gordon finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns while Tanner McEvoy added 66 yards on six carries -- including a 45-yard touchdown run.

"It's a different team, but we've watched a lot of game film," Ogunbowale said of this year's Hawkeyes. "Obviously, we watched the game from last year but we've watched some of their games this year, too. So we're still breaking that down, making sure we can find what we can do against their defense and whatnot."

Saturday against Hawai'i, the Badgers heavily utilized a two fullback set, partly due to the injury to redshirt sophomore tight end Troy Fumagalli. Traylor noted that, coinciding with his expectation of Fumagalli's return this week, that set may not be as prominent against the Hawkeyes.

Regardless of the difference in personnel, the Badgers insist that the two fullback set isn't much different than what the offense will regularly run.

"There's not that much difference, honestly," Traylor said. "It's still the same amount of blockers, but the fullback comes up and plays sort of at the H-back."

Whether it's with zero, one or two fullbacks, the Badgers will hope that the rushing attack has developed over the last three games from where it was the last time it faced a stout front line.

Quick notes

  • Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said on Tuesday that redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel practiced in individual drills. Benzschawel injured his knee early in fall camp after being in position to challenge for the starting right tackle spot.
  • Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus, Clement was scheduled to travel to Munich, Germany for treatment for his sports hernia injury