The Wisconsin Badgers picked up a huge road victory last time out over Purdue, which sets up an even bigger contest this weekend as Wisconsin takes on the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes. The winner of this contest will get a huge boost in the Big Ten West standings moving forward. What do the Badgers need to do to make sure they are the one’s that come away controlling their own destiny?
Let’s take a look.
Clean it up, special teams!
We have watched Wisconsin football play seven games and it seems like there has been a special teams blunder in EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. This is nothing new either, we all remember the last Big Ten Championship game or the Rose Bowl game. It’s bad, and it has been bad.
This is all in a year where kicker Collin Larsh and punter Andy Vujinovich have booth been really solid. Just last week Larsh brought home Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, something I never expected to see based on his career previously. Kudos to him.
Despite that, Wisconsin’s special teams is still what I would call dreadful mostly because of their return game. Last week we saw Dean Engram muff a punt, and Wisconsin nearly had a couple other dangerous spots in the kick return game. Honestly, the Badgers might be better off sending nobody back on a punt return and fair catching immediately on kick returns. It won’t get you anything positive, but it will at least keep you out of the negative light when it comes to blunders in that phase of the game.
In this rivalry we’ve seen not only what turnovers can do, but what special teams’ blunders can do when it comes to momentum and shifts. In a game with limited possessions, you cannot afford to give the ball away. Think back to a couple of years ago when Iowa muffed a punt and gave Wisconsin a path right back into the game. If the Badgers want to come away victorious here they need to try and make sure that special teams is not a talking point postgame once again
Win the turnover battle (or just don’t lose it)
Coming into this week the largest disparity between these two teams thus far has been turnovers for both sides. Just two weeks ago Iowa ranked first in the nation in terms of turnover margin while Wisconsin ranked dead last.
Literally, a 129 team gap.
The gap has slimmed down some coming into this week as Iowa had a rough week of turnovers against Purdue to drop them down, and Wisconsin forced a few of their own finally to crawl out of the basement. Still, though, Iowa comes into this game ranked third in the nation in turnover margin while Wisconsin comes in at No. 122 so the gap is still pretty significant. I mean, just look at this!
Not to alarm anyone, but turnovers will be important on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/apuiddx28v— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 26, 2021
If Wisconsin wants to win this game they need to really have things tightened up in the turnover department. Last week the Badgers beat Purdue rather handily, but the 13 points that Wisconsin did let up came off of Badgers turnovers. If that happens against this Iowa team you’re dead in the water as Iowa has lived off of forcing turnovers and capitalizing on mistakes.
If you want to win this game you’ve got to be clean with the football on one end and make Iowa drive the length of the field on the other. If you can force some turnovers yourself even better!
Win on third down
Last week Wisconsin looked good on offense, but third downs were still a major concern as the Badgers went just 1-of-11 in converting third downs offensively. On the flip side, Wisconsin’s defense was just as stout, holding Purdue to just 3-of-12 on their conversion attempts. This week, one side of the ball will need to see some improvement and the other will need to keep that same dominance going.
If Wisconsin wants to control the clock and put points on the board they need to start converting third downs at a much higher clip. The Badgers are currently converting just 28% of their third downs which ranks No. 127 in the nation. That’s barely ahead of UConn and is worse than Arizona, who hasn’t won a game all season long. Horrendous.
The Badgers have survived the last few weeks picking up big gains on other downs, but that won’t last forever. Iowa’s defense currently ranks No. 7 in rushing defense, so it’s fair to assume that the Badgers will be put in more third down spots this week and they’ll have to convert them to survive.
If they don’t, they’ll really need their defense to continue it’s dominating ways. Wisconsin comes into this week ranking fourth in third down conversions allowed, so they’ve held up their end of the deal thus far. Iowa’s offense has struggled to convert their fair share of times, so winning the battle of third down on both sides will be crucial in this contest.