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Roundtable: Closing the book on Wisconsin’s win vs. Iowa

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Thoughts on the defense’s dominance, plus an early look at Michigan.

Iowa v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It was a defensive effort to be remembered when the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers overwhelmed the No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes in their 38–14 victory on Saturday.

An Iowa offense that generated 487 yards against Ohio State just a week prior was stifled to only 66 by defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s unit.

Despite giving up two touchdowns on pick-sixes, the offense did score 31 points and added two scores by redshirt freshman wide receiver Kendric Pryor.

Our writers look back at the dominant Iowa victory while looking ahead to a key match-up that will once again determine Wisconsin’s College Football Playoff fate.

The Good: What went well for Wisconsin on Saturday?

Owen Riese: The run defense was fantastic. The Badgers forced Iowa into throwing situations because Iowa couldn’t get the run game going. The biggest way for this defense to become lethal is to force the other offense into being one-dimensional. Also, the resiliency of Alex Hornibrook continues to impress me. The interceptions don’t, but his resolve does.

Kevin O’Connell: Wisconsin’s pass rush was awesome and consistently made quarterback Nathan Stanley uncomfortable in the pocket. The Badgers finished with four sacks and four quarterback hurries, and the consistent pressure was the main reason why Iowa was a dreadful 0-for-13 on third downs.

Ryan Mellenthin: The pass defense was suffocating. Iowa averaged 1.7 yards per pass and only connected on eight of 24 passes for 41 yards. Stanley looked like a completely different quarterback against the Badgers then he was the previous week against Ohio State, when he threw five touchdown passes and had a QBR of 82.7. Against Wisconsin, his QBR was 1.3. Wisconsin also sacked him four times.

Neal Olson: Despite the hiccups in the passing game in the way of interceptions, the Badgers had their young receivers all flash play-making ability. Pryor winning the jump ball for a TD is a play rarely seen by Wisconsin receivers. Danny Davis also added several clutch catches. If there was concern about the throw game with Quintez Cephus out for the year, this game should help alleviate those feelings.

The Bad: Many offensive miscues. What needs to be cleaned up heading into the early kickoff vs. Michigan?

Owen: Turnovers, man. Michigan’s defense is nasty and will take the ball away—the Badgers can’t give them the ball on top of that. Executing up front will also be paramount, as the Badgers are going to need to optimize their running game against the stout Wolverine front seven. As we saw a year ago, Hornibrook struggles when the Badgers are unable to run the ball.t

Kevin: Hornibrook needs to learn how to navigate the pocket better. I’d like to see the redshirt sophomore just throw the ball away more when he feels pressure. Too often, he simply gets smothered by the rush or throws into coverage when the pocket collapses. With Michigan’s elite defensive line coming to Madison, it’s imperative that Hornibrook limits his mistakes when the pressure gets to him.

Ryan: Interceptions and fumbles. Hornibrook has now thrown 12 interceptions, tied for fourth in the NCAA and second in the Big Ten. Jonathan Taylor also lost his fourth fumble of the season late in the second quarter.

Neal: This offense continues to defy all Badger athletic clichés (well, football and men’s basketball anyway). The old “take care of the ball and don’t beat yourself” adage sure has been way off. Turnovers and pre-snap penalties have been abnormally high and a constant throughout nearly every game thus far. Wisconsin has been able to overcome stretches of sloppy football all season through superlative defense. But if the Badgers want to have a spot in the playoffs, they need to get these breakdowns minimized.

Game balls: Who gets them?

Owen: Leon Jacobs. The senior had a phenomenal game, and really clinched the game with the fumble returned for a touchdown. That caused some separation and put a lot more pressure on the Hawkeyes offensively.

Kevin: Ryan Connelly. Jacobs and T.J. Edwards were obviously outstanding, but Connelly led all defenders with nine tackles and made a couple of huge hits that really set the tone for Wisconsin’s defense. Connelly is often the overlooked member of UW’s dominant linebacker corps, but he was a beast against Iowa and will need to continue his stellar play, especially as Chris Orr continues to deal with a leg injury.

Ryan: Kendric Pryor. The redshirt freshman touched the ball twice and scored both times, once on a reverse for 25 yards and again on a 12-yard reception. Pryor and others will need to continue to step up without Cephus moving forward.

Neal: Jacobs will get plenty of credit for his game and rightfully so, but Edwards’s one-handed tip to interception was a key play in the game. It was still only a 10-point lead for the Badgers and Iowa was into Wisconsin territory for the first time in the second half. Edwards’s pick squashed any hope of an Iowa rally.

Up Next: Michigan (and College GameDay). What are the early keys to the game?

Owen: Michigan has struggled to throw the football before/since Wilton Speight got hurt at Purdue. The Wolverines have a stable of talented runners: Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, and Ty Isaac most notably. If it can do to Michigan what it did to Iowa, and make the Wolverines one-dimensional, Wisconsin will have a great chance to win this game. With the swag this defense is playing with right now, it wouldn’t shock me if the defense says in the locker room, “You get us 17 points, we’re winning this.”

Kevin: I mentioned it earlier, but for me this game will come down to how the offensive line and Hornibrook deal with Michigan’s pass rush. Backed by Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst Jr., the Wolverines have one of the best defensive lines in the country, and will be a difficult challenge for the Badgers’ offensive line, especially if starting center Tyler Biadasz is unable to play.

Ryan: Continue to play Wisconsin Badgers defensive football. Michigan is on its third quarterback of the season in Brandon Peters, who has yet to play against a defense that resembles anything even close to Wisconsin’s. Both teams boast staunch rush defenses, so if Wisconsin is able to win the ground game and if Hornibrook can keep the ball away from the guys in white, Wisconsin should improve to 11–0.

Neal: Find a way to get an early lead. Wisconsin has had an unfortunate knack for spotting teams an early lead in the past few Big Ten games. Regardless of record, Michigan is loaded with talented football players. Mounting a comeback against confident, quality players from Michigan is way different than doing it against Indiana. With no silly turnovers and a couple of long scoring drives, the Badger defense will be able to continue to suffocate opposing offenses and come away with a win against Michigan.