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Q&A: What to expect from Iowa’s defense vs. Wisconsin

Black Heart Gold Pants breaks down the Hawkeyes’ defense.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the first of three rivalry games in the 2016 season for the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday when they head down to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes.

Part one of our Q&A sessions with Black Heart Gold Pants explored Iowa’s season so far and their progression on offense. Part two will examine what makes them tick on defense, and some predictions for the game.

Joining us once again is Max Brekke from BHGP.

On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin's offensive linemen have noted the physical nature of the defense. Who's standing out this year in that front seven?

Max: The front seven has actually been a pretty strong part of the Iowa defense this season. On the line, Iowa has three players with four sacks each in Matt Nelson, Anthony Nelson, and Jaleel Johnson. The Nelsons are two players that Iowa fans are really excited about, as Matt is a sophomore and Anthony is a freshman, and the two of them have put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. Anthony Nelson actually recorded 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first career game for the Hawkeyes, and while he hasn't put up those insane numbers all season, he's still producing outside the box score. On the inside, Johnson is the one to look out for, as he's terrorized opposing quarterbacks and simultaneously stuffed the run. People had some really lofty expectations for Johnson, and he's living up to them with 28 tackles and four sacks this season.

The linebacking corps is also really solid. Josey Jewell is on pace for over 100 tackles this season and has been the captain of the defense. He pretty much single-handedly stood up Rutgers inside the Iowa five-yard line earlier this season, making four tackles on four consecutive plays to keep the Scarlet Knights out of the end zone. Ben Niemann's name doesn't seem to get called as much, but he's been very solid this season, especially in pass coverage against wide receivers. Bo Bower, however, has not been great at times, and seems to take a lot of bad routes to the ball. He's not necessarily bad, but he's definitely the weak link in the front seven.

Iowa's given up 219 yards per game through the air. Is the secondary with cornerback Desmond King still a major strength?

I'm inclined to say yes here, as the Iowa secondary has been pretty solid for most of the season. Those stats are even a bit inflated as I mentioned above, too, seeing as how Iowa's second-team defense gave up a whole ton of yards to David Blough on his way to 400-plus yards against Iowa last week. As you'll probably witness this weekend, no one throws the ball at King anymore. Purdue did the most out of any Iowa opponent this season, and what happened? King recorded his first interception of the season and ran it back for a touchdown. So let me revise that statement — no one throws the ball at Desmond King anymore except Purdue, and they just fired their head coach.

The safeties have often been a liability this season, but have come up big when it matters. Brandon Snyder and Miles Taylor often go for the big hit, and miss tackles somewhat often when they do it, but their coverage has been pretty average this season, and Snyder even has a few very timely turnovers to his credit.

The guy Iowa fans love to harp on is Greg Mabin, who starts opposite of King. As you might have guessed, teams throw at Mabin a bunch since they're not throwing it at King, and Mabin gets burned pretty often. He doesn't normally allow big plays, but he gives opposing offenses just enough that they can throw on him. He's pretty average in coverage, but when you're pretty average and starting across from an All-American, you look really bad.

What are your keys to the game, and your prediction?

My keys to the game are really simple. Iowa needs to limit the Badgers' offense like many teams before them have, and they need to get the passing game going. If Iowa is going to have any chance against this stout Wisconsin defense, they're going to have to make them respect the passing game. Otherwise, the Badgers should (and will) stack the box against them and make it impossible to get the ground game going. I think Iowa's defense is capable of stopping most offenses, and this Badgers offense is no exception. Health is also a key to this one, as Iowa won't stand much of a chance if the team is decimated by injuries.

In my opinion, Iowa will have a chance in this one, especially in Iowa City. In Madison, I'd probably pick Bucky by two scores. In Kinnick, I'll take Iowa in a slobberknocker. 17-14, although I'm not super confident in this pick.