The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers (6-2 overall, 3-2 B1G) are finally back in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium this weekend. The heathens from Iowa City, aka the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2 overall, 3-2 B1G), are beating down the door and are ready to slug it out with Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Badgers have won six of their last seven meetings with Iowa and will be looking to hang on to the Heartland Trophy for the fourth straight year. Iowa has won two straight games heading into this weekend, but their two losses are to the only other ranked teams on their schedule so who can say how good the Hawks actually are.
You know who can say? Jonah Parker of our SB Nation B1G cousins Black Heart Gold Pants is here to give us the lowdown on what to expect when the Badgers welcome the Hawkeyes to Madison for the resumption of the Quadrangle of Hate and the battle for the Heartland Trophy.
1) The Hawkeyes have a couple of key contributors that are likely to miss the game on Saturday. Who is going to replace them and what will be missed from those sitting out?
The injury bug has been an issue for the Hawkeyes all season long. Heading into Saturday’s matchup, Iowa will be without starting WR Brandon Smith, starting RG Cole Banwart, starting TE Nate Wieting and potentially backup RG Kyler Schott and starting MLB Kristian Welch.
Smith is a budding star for the Hawkeyes with an NFL frame, Mississippi state champion high jumping ability and a newfound knack for making the big time catch. He’ll surely be missed, particularly as the guy who can go get the ball when you need a throw to the sticks on third down or high point a fade route in the red zone.
He’ll be replaced by RS freshman Tyrone Tracy, who has primarily been a slot receiver, but stepped into Smith’s role two weeks ago against Northwestern. In that matchup, he finished with just two catches, but they went for 88 yards and a touchdown. He brings more speed and tackle-breaking ability than Smith, but lacks the pure size and leaping ability to go up and get those contested passes.
Wieting has been Iowa’s blocking tight end on the season. Against Northwestern, he was replaced by freshman TE Sam LaPorta. LaPorta lacks the blocking prowess of Wieting, but appears to be a better athlete. For the first time this year, we saw the offensive coordinator utilize the tight end vertically with the addition of LaPorta, who hauled in two catches for 43 yards. He had another 40-yard reception inexplicably overturned, spoiling what would have been a very good debut.
In short, Iowa can survive those two injuries. The real problems will be replacing the two guards and Kirsitan Welch.
Iowa has struggled with the interior of the offensive line all season. Part of that has been the injuries, which they’ve been dealing with for several weeks. This week, it’s possible we see the return of Kyler Schott, who looked very good in the run game when he first replaced Banwart. If not, we’ll again see Mark Kallenberger, who will be the next great tackle for Iowa, but is still young and out of position at guard.
The Hawkeyes have already struggled against this Wisconsin defense for years. The new issues on the interior will be a problem on Saturday.
As for Welch, he’s a Wisconsin native who has surely been looking forward to finally getting a W against his home state school. The Hawkeye defense could certainly use him against that tremendous run game of the Badgers. In his place, should he be unable to go, will be Dillon Doyle, freshman son of strength coach Chris Doyle. Like Kallenberger, he’s going to be a good one, but he’s still young and inexperienced. If Welch is out, it will cost Iowa at least one explosive play.
2) Wisconsin isn’t doing a whole lot different on offense and defense this year. What sort of schemes are the Hawkeyes running?
Similarly, Iowa isn’t doing a whole lot different from normal Kirk Ferentz football. That means a run first offense predicated on getting in front of the chains, play-action passing off the run and winning time of possession. On defense, it’s the classic bend, don’t break 4-3 with no frills.
As mentioned, the offensive line has had their struggles, primarily on the interior. With the inherent issues that brings for trying to run the ball, we’ve seen slightly more creativity in terms of running out of shotgun, delays, draws and mixing in more gap scheme vs. Iowa’s traditional zone blocking.
It’s also meant more passing than normal, in part because Iowa has the luxury of a senior, third year starter at QB. There’s been a substantial down tick in tight end usage as you’d expect when losing a pair of first rounders. And there have been slightly more quick passes and screens of late to compensate for the pressure on Stanley.
3) Who should Badger fans be looking out for on both sides of the ball (besides A.J. Epenesa who we are all rightfully terrified of)?
On the offensive side of the ball, I assume everyone’s aware of Nate Stanley, who despite his struggles both in big games and with the Badgers is leading the Big Ten in passing yardage (go ahead and verify, we had to as well... multiple times) and will almost certainly leave Iowa as the school’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns.
The real potential game breakers are true freshman RB Tyler Goodson and WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Goodson has a gear no other Iowa RB possesses and has wiggle we haven’t seen since Akrum Wadley left campus. If anyone’s going to break an explosive run for the Hawkeyes, it’s Goodson. And ISM is the fastest guy on the team and was a preseason All-American return man after being the Big Ten’s return man of the year last season.
4) Which player on the Badgers (non-Jonathan Taylor division) are you most worried about facing?
Every. Single. Offensive. Lineman. But seriously, I think Hawkeye fans expect Wisconsin to be able to run the ball with success. The question is whether Jack Coan can go off the way every other Wisconsin QB seems to against Iowa.
And really, can Iowa find a way to actually score points. They’ve struggled mightily against any defense with a pulse this season and have had major issues figuring out how to attack Wisconsin’s 3-4 for years. So yeah, the entire defense scares me.
5) Final score prediction and players of the game on offense and defense. What ya got?
The homer in me wants to take Iowa so bad. Everything lines up so perfectly if Iowa can just find a way to win this one. Which is exactly why they’ll lay a complete egg. I expect the defense to do its part, but could see the offense pulling a 2017.
I’ll go Wisconsin 16, Iowa 6. And now I’m going to go cry while watching highlights of 2015.