The No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers (2-2 overall, 2-2 B1G) are finally able to play back-to-back games for only the second time this season, and it comes during the final week of the regular season. This week the Badgers will battle for the Heartland Trophy with a road contest at Iowa.
Here is an overview of how the season has unfolded for the Hawkeyes to this point.
Results thus far:
No. 19 Iowa enters the game second in the Big Ten West with a 5-2 overall record (5-2 B1G) through seven games.
- Loss at Purdue 24 - 20
- Loss versus Northwestern 21 - 20
- Win versus Michigan State 49 - 7
- Win at Minnesota 35 - 7
- Win at Penn State 41 - 21
- Win versus Nebraska 26 - 20
- Win at Illinois 35 - 21
The Hawkeyes are relatively healthy, with reserve right tackle Mark Kallenberger possibly back from injury as well this week. He was recently overtaken on the depth chart by Wisconsin native Jack Plumb. You are welcome recruitniks.
While it is not an injury. former four-star cornerback Julius Brents has decided to enter the transfer portal. He was in the two-deep, but was primarily a contributor on special teams.
Status of the offense:
Offensively, Iowa doesn’t have overly impressive individual statistics to hang their hat on, but as a unit the Hawkeyes have the second best scoring average at 32.3 points per game this season.
First-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras has been fairly up and down this year for Iowa, but he has a live arm and when he is on he can do some damage. The 6-foot-5 pocket passer enters this week averaging 194 yards passing per game, and has thrown seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Last week against Illinois was the best game of his career though, as he tallied 220 yards and three touchdowns on 64.3% passing.
Rounding out the backfield, the Hawkeyes rely on the two-headed attack of Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent. Both players are averaging above 4.9 yards per carry, with Goodson earning the lion's share of the carries (132 compared to 63). Combined the duo have accumulated over 1,000 rushing yards and average nearly 150 yards on the ground per game. With an up and down passing game, Goodson and Sargent have been extremely valuable in the red zone as well, accounting for 13 of the teams 17 rushing touchdowns in seven games.
A big reason for the improved rushing attack from a season ago is the play of the offensive line. The maulers up front have only allowed nine sacks on the season, and have done a great job of opening up running lanes for the ball carriers. Despite dealing with some attrition with the loss of Tristan Wirfs to the NFL, and some injuries on the right side of the line, Iowa has chugged right along. If you want a name or two to focus in on, senior left tackle Alaric Jackson and sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum are All-Big Ten contenders.
One way that Iowa has really improved over the past few seasons is in adding skill players out wide. The Hawkeyes have four solid wide receivers, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith are the senior leaders, but Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy are also very capable. Per tradition though, the receiving room is paced by a tight end. Sam Laporta leads the team with 26 receptions and 260 yards this season, and he continues to improve. The sophomore out of Illinois showed flashed in 2019, but he has really stood out this season.
Status of the defense:
On defense, Iowa is once again tough. The Hawkeyes sit in the top three or four of the Big Ten in nearly every major defensive category.
Senior linebacker Nick Niemann is finally the last Niemann brother to run through the program, but he is racking up tackles at a high rate in his final season. The Illinois product leads the team with 69 tackles (Editor’s note: he wrote the sex number!), and is generally always around the ball from his weak side linebacker spot. Middle linebacker Seth Benson is second on the team in tackles with 43 and is also stout against the run.
While the linebackers earn a lot of the fanfare due to gaudy tackle numbers, arguably the best player on the defense for Iowa this season has been Daviyon Nixon. The defensive tackle has been a force this season with 41 tackles, 13 of which were for a loss, a team high 5.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Iowa has been very good against the run this year, and Nixon is a big reason why. Next to Nixon on the defensive line, senior end Chauncey Gholston has also played well with 4.5 sacks.
In the secondary, juniors Jack Koerner and Riley Moss have been active for the Hawkeyes this year. Koerner is fourth on the team in tackles and leads the team with three interceptions. The free safety tends to be in the right place frequently, and is a player to keep an eye on Saturday afternoon.
After a tumultuous off-season, Iowa had a shaky start to the 2020 season with consecutive close losses to Purdue and Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have rebounded nicely and have proven to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten since.
The Hawkeyes and Badgers have had some really tight contests the past few meetings, with Wisconsin barely edging out Iowa last season thanks to a heroic two-point conversion stop by Chris Orr and Eric Burrell. This should be a really good game once again, and the Badgers will need to be better on offense if they want to take down the Hawkeyes this year at Kinnick Stadium.