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Wisconsin football: keys to victory at Iowa

What do the Badgers need to do to bounce back against a surging Iowa team?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This season has been a major struggle for most teams in college football and the No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers more so than most as they’ve now lost three games to COVID and two games on the field in pretty ugly fashion.

Now Wisconsin is faced with the task of looking themselves in the mirror and bouncing back. The season has not been what anyone wanted, but UW can bounce back with a win over Iowa and possibly Minnesota the following week if the Big Ten pulls their head out of their...anyway, here’s what the Badgers need to do to come away with a victory against the Hawkeyes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Be aggressive

Last time Wisconsin went to Kinnick Stadium the Badgers and Hawkeyes played a classic Wisconsin/Iowa game. Low scoring, tight, few possessions and in the end it worked out for them as the Badgers came home with a victory. One of the reasons for that was Wisconsin pushed the envelope and was aggressive when they needed to be.

In 2019, we saw flashes of an aggressive Paul Chryst, but in 2020 Chryst and the offensive coaching staff has been uber conservative and it hasn’t worked out. Settling for field goals, punting in plus territory and playing field position won’t win you this game. KICKING IS FOR LOSERS!

You’ve lost two games and three others have been canceled. What’s the worst that can happen by maybe going for it on fourth down rather than settling for a field goal? As a fan I would rather see the Badgers take a shot at converting a fourth and three rather than punt from their own 36-yard line.

I know Iowa and Wisconsin playing means there is a punt quota for both teams, but eventually the Badgers need to push it and go for some scores. They aren’t struggling to get yards, they just need to turn them into points. six or seven points isn’t winning this game, or any game really.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

But be patient

Wait, but you just said...yes I know what I said! Wisconsin will have opportunities to be aggressive when they need to be but they also need to stick with what has worked for them this season offensively.

What has worked?

Well not a lot, but one thing that has is JALEN BERGER. Berger is currently averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the ground and over the course of the last three contests he’s only gotten 15 carries in each game.

That is far too few touches for your best offensive weapon at this time. Berger is currently listed atop the running back depth chart so maybe that shows you he’ll see more carries this week (let’s hope). I think the trouble for Wisconsin will be trying to balance the aggressive needs with the patience. Iowa is a very strong run defense, ranking No. 18 in the nation against the run, but that doesn’t mean you have to try and sling it around the yard.

Berger may not pop every carry for six yards but in a game like this you have to establish some sort of run game and not shy away from it if it stalls a bit. If you put it all on Graham Mertz on too many drives you’ve seem what can happen. Berger needs 25 carries if you want to win this football game.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Make Petras beat you

Offensively, Iowa really doesn’t do anything that well. They don’t do anything that poorly either, and that’s what makes them Iowa. The Hawkeyes currently rank No. 53 in rushing offense and No. 96 in passing offense. There is a distinct difference on what is the better phase of their offense, and that’s the run game. They are balanced, but if I am Jim Leonhard I think the success comes from taking the run away first and foremost and making Spencer Petras win this game with his arm.

Petras has improved as the season has gone on, but he has not faced a defense like Wisconsin’s since the Northwestern game. Early in the season the Wildcats had a great game plan and it worked to perfection. What did they do? They took away the run and said “hey Spencer, beat us.”

He didn’t.

In that contest the Hawkeyes ran for just 77 yards on the ground and Petras was forced to do it all. The result? Petras was 26-of-50 passing and threw three interceptions. For Wisconsin, I think the game plan will be the same. The Badgers have the best rush defense in college football currently, and I think they will stick to that in this one. Take away the run and make Spencer Petras beat you. If you do you’ll come out on the right side...if, ya know, you actually score some yourself.