By the time the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa Hawkeyes kick off from Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, it will be nearly a month since Wisconsin’s last win, a 30-6 dismantling of Michigan State on Sept. 24. Since then, the Badgers have suffered two losses to top-five opponents and find themselves fighting for their Big Ten West championship hopes.
At stake is the Heartland Trophy, the prize for the winner between Wisconsin and Iowa since 2004. While the two teams have split their series since the Heartland has been up for grabs (5-5), the Badgers lead the all-time series 44-43-2 and the road team has won the last five. Their last meeting came last season, a defensive struggle that ended in a 10-6 Iowa victory in Madison.
Iowa enters its eighth game of 2016 as the defending West Division champions and with repeat aspirations. While the Badgers entered the season un-ranked and have risen to the top-10, Iowa peaked at no. 11 in the Coaches Poll before dropping home games to FCS North Dakota State and B1G foe Northwestern. They find themselves on the outside-looking-in on the polls entering Saturday, but with a 5-2 record and trailing only no. 8 Nebraska in the B1G West standings. Many aren’t sure what to make of head coach Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes, given their strength of schedule and mixed results to this point of the season.
Paul Chryst and his Badgers have a golden opportunity in front of them – a win would set up another massive, top-10 matchup under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium next weekend. While many will say the Badgers are through the difficult part of their schedule, they’ll need to avoid looking past this week’s opponent, a hungry home team with a profile and goals similar to their own.
When and where is the game?
Things will kickoff this Saturday at 11 a.m. CT from Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
How can I watch?
ESPN will broadcast the game, with Steve Levy and Brian Griese in the booth and Todd McShay handling the sidelines.
How can I stream the game online?
Via WatchESPN.com or the WatchESPN mobile app on iOS or Android.
How can I listen to it on the radio?
Locally, on the Badger Sports Network, where Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher and Patrick Herb will bring you the action. On satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 84 / XM 84. Otherwise, head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching WIBA.
What can I expect to see?
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 30-23 loss vs. no. 2 Ohio State
Polls: No. 10 in AP Top 25 (last week: No. 8); No. 10 in Amway Coaches Poll (last week: No. 10)
Head coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (14-5)
Iowa (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 49-35 win at Purdue
Polls: Received seven AP Top 25 votes (last week: three votes), received four Amway Coaches Poll votes (last week: not ranked, no votes)
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz, 18th season at Iowa, (132-89)
When Iowa has the ball: Whenever Iowa and Wisconsin meet, a lot is made of how similar the programs are – they run-first, thrive in states that aren’t known for being rich with football recruiting talent, play strong defense and, most importantly, are known for their corn-fed earth-movers on offense. This season is no different, especially on that last point:
Pro Football Focus: Iowa has the No. 1 offensive line in America https://t.co/Rhiy7bSoVg— College Football (@CFB) October 19, 2016
You can hold the retorts and arguments with the above statement that was made this week by Pro Football Focus. Regardless of PFF’s or anyone else’s opinion of the Iowa offensive line, the fact is that they enter this matchup with Wisconsin as a banged-up group - They’ve started five different combinations up-front through seven games. With injuries at left tackle and left guard, the unit’s status remains up in the air for Saturday.
Working behind that group is senior quarterback C.J. Beathard. Beathard has averaged 175 yards through the air in his second full season as a starter, while tossing a total of 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’ll look to make a bigger impact than he did in last year’s matchup against Wisconsin, as he completed nine of 21 passes for only 77 yards. The health of his receiving options will not help Beathard’s cause on Saturday, as tight end George Kittle’s status is in question wide receiver Matt VandeBerg was lost indefinitely in the loss to Northwestern. Together, the pair has accounted for 34% of the team’s receptions, 43% of the teams receiving yardage and 45% of their receiving touchdowns. Statistically speaking, 5’9 senior receiver Riley McCarron has stepped up; he leads the team in receptions and has averaged 6 catches, 71 yards over the team’s past 3 games.
Per usual, Iowa makes their money on the ground behind that offensive line, averaging 180 yards per game (7th in the B1G). Beathard hands the ball off to running backs LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, who make up the bulk of those yards per game. Both average over 5 yards per carry, have gained over 500 total yards on the season, and amassed runs of over 65-yards.
The Hawkeyes’ offense will face undoubtedly their largest test to this point of the season on Saturday – a Wisconsin defense that ranks near the top of the country and Big Ten in most major statistical categories. Surrendering just over 300 total yards (12th nationally) and only 15.2 points per game (8th), the Badgers defense should be closer to full strength on Saturday as linebacker and senior leader Vince Biegel returns. The Stevens Point native has not played since the Michigan State victory. It’s not all good news for the Badgers, as they will be without defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu. The 6’2, 340-pound sophomore’s absence gives redshirt sophomore Billy Hirschfeld the start, while true freshman Garrett Rand is listed behind him.
Elsewhere on defense, linebacker Jack Cichy aims build upon his outstanding performance that earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors last weekend. The rest of the defense (mostly) healthy and looks to bounce back from a game that saw them give up the most points (30) and yards (411) of the season.
When Wisconsin has the ball: The Iowa defense should be a test for the Badgers, but is coming off a game in which they surrendered 35 points and 505 yards to Purdue. Of that 505, only 47 came on the ground; while that could be attributed to the 28-0 lead Iowa built early, the Hawkeyes also flexed their run-stopping muscles against Minnesota as they held the Gophers to 102 yards (they entered the game averaging 228). Both efforts are vast improvements from their first loss of the season when they gave up 239 to North Dakota State. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has piled up 28 tackles inside and tallied four sacks on the season. Ends Matt Nelson and Anthony Nelson have each added four sacks of their own. They’ll look to continue their success against the run and put pressure on Wisconsin’s quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
Behind the defensive front is linebacker Josey Jewell, the team’s leading tackler and defensive captain. The 6’2” junior will lead a unit that will need to slow a Badgers running game that is looking to continue the success it enjoyed against Ohio State.
The secondary is where things get interesting for Iowa. Cornerback Desmond King figures to get plenty of attention from ESPN on Saturday, but much less attention from the Badgers. That is to say, Alex Hornibrook and the Badgers offense would be smart to avoid the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award Winner. While some Badgers fans won’t realize King gained recognition as the nation’s top defensive back, they may remember King as the guy who picked off Joel Stave twice in Iowa’s 2015 win at Camp Randall Stadium. King has six pass breakups in 2016 with an interceptions that he took to the house last weekend. He’s a top-level playmaker and is paired with fellow corner Greg Mabin. With King playing opposite him, Mabin has been targeted quite a bit by opposing offenses, with varying results. In the Minnesota game, Mabin surrendered a 21-yard pass on a late Gophers drive, but broke up a pass to seal the game later in that same drive. As we learned this week from Black Heart Gold Pants, Mabin has drawn criticism from Hawkeyes’ fans, and the team’s safety play has been suspect as well. Troy Fumagalli, Robert Wheelwright and co. should have opportunities on Saturday, as the Hawkeyes give up 219 passing yards per game.
The Wisconsin running game finally looked like the Wisconsin running game last week, as they racked up 236 yards total and 5.1 yards-per-carry against an Ohio State defense that entered the game surrendering less than 100 per-game. Working on an extra week of rest, Corey Clement looked like his old self as he led the team with 164 yards on 25 carries, while Jazz Peavy helped revive the jet sweep for over 70 yards. Time will tell if they can continue this success against another stout front in Iowa. If they can, it’s hard to see how they don’t regain the Heartland Trophy.
Special Teams: Iowa senior Ron Coluzzi handles both punts and kickoffs for the Hawkeyes, and with success: he’s forced touchbacks on over 77% of his kickoffs and opponents have fair caught over 65% of his punts. Like Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers a few weeks ago, aforementioned cornerback Desmond King fulfills multiple roles for Iowa – he handles kick and punt returns, in addition to his outstanding corner play. It’s King’s second year handling the duties and he’s seen very positive results (25.7 yards per return on kicks, 11.2 yards per return on punts for his career).
It’s status-quo for the Badgers special teams – kicker Andrew Endicott is 4-4 as Rafael Gaglianone’s replacement, while P.J. Rosowski will continue handling kickoffs. However, Anthony Lotti is listed as the starting punter; Rosowski handled all punts against Ohio State, and the two have nearly split the duties all season (14 punts for Lotti, 13 for Rosowski).