Yet again, another bye week means no new game film for me to watch, and sadly, a large amount of yard work that had to be finished last Saturday that I've neglected to pay attention to since the start of the season. Saturday brings a solid road challenge in Iowa City, but first, let's look at some numbers.
Numbers to notice
6th: National ranking for Wisconsin in total defense, giving up 285.0 yards per game (second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State)
6th: National ranking for Wisconsin in scoring defense, giving up 15.9 points per game (second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State)
4th: National ranking for Wisconsin in rush defense, giving up 87.6 yards per game (second in Big Ten)
16th: National ranking for Wisconsin in pass defense, allowing 197.4 yards per game (third in Big Ten, behind Michigan State and Iowa)
+2: Turnover margin for Wisconsin on the season (five fumble recoveries + five interceptions - eight turnovers), tied for 48th in the nation
74th: National ranking for Iowa in total offense, 397.6 yards per game (ninth in the Big Ten)
79th: National ranking for Iowa in scoring offense, 27.4 points per game (11th in the Big Ten. Last, you ask? Purdue at 13.1)
47th: National ranking for Iowa in rush offense, 188.9 yards per game (sixth in Big Ten)
86th: National ranking for Iowa in pass offense, throwing for 208.8 yards per game (eighth in Big Ten)
+2: Turnover margin for Iowa on the season (14 turnovers forced - 12 turnovers given up), tied for 52nd in the nation
60-for-122: Iowa's third-down offense efficiency, tied for 19th in the nation (second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State)
31-for-102: Wisconsin's third-down defense efficiency, ranking ninth in the nation (third in the Big Ten, behind Michigan State and Nebraska)
To help us break down the Hawkeyes' offense, B5Q asked the assistance of Ross from Black Heart Gold Pants. He gladly answered our questions via email.
B5Q: Wisconsin and Iowa have been described as physical teams. What type of offense does Iowa run, and what has been most successful?
Ross: Iowa added a new offensive coordinator last season (Greg Davis) and while things have changed, Iowa's fundamental identity hasn't altered that much: they still want to be physical and they still want to run the ball and control the clock. They don't want to be completely one-dimensional (until a few games ago, the passing and rushing yards for Iowa were almost identical), but their default identity isn't go to five-wide and throw the ball 50 times a game. In Iowa's three losses this year, QB Jake Rudock threw the ball 37, 46, and 34 times. In Iowa's five win this year, Rudock never threw the ball more than 28 times. If Iowa has to throw the ball a lot, things are probably not going well.
B5Q: The Hawkeyes come into Saturday's game for the Heartland Trophy off a 17-10 victory over a self-imploding Northwestern squad with Jake Rudock under center, who's a sophomore (like Wisconsin's Joel Stave) and has thrown for 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions. What has he done as the Hawkeyes' signal caller that's been solid, and what does he need to improve on?
Ross: The most impressive thing about Rudock has probably been his poise; he doesn't seem to rattle easily and he also seems to be able to shake off bad plays and move on to the next play. His composure has also been impressive; arguably his three-best performances have come on the road, at Ames, at Minneapolis, and at Columbus. (Say what you will about the relative quality of Iowa State and Minnesota, their fans certainly created very hostile atmospheres for Iowa to deal with.) He also has a good arm and some nice touch (witness that pass he lofted to Jake Duzey for an 85-yard TD against Ohio State) and has shown the ability to scramble and pick up yards (and touchdowns, when Iowa is near the end zone; his five rushing touchdowns leads the team). The main thing he needs to work on might be those interceptions; timing-wise, they've come at some very inopportune points in the game -- six of them have been in the fourth quarter.
B5Q: Junior running back/human battering ram Mark Weisman is closing in on a thousand-yard season with just under 300 yards to go. What have he and the Hawkeyes' running backs shown in the first eight games of the year?
Ross: Patience and an ability to grind out hard yards. There isn't a home run hitter in Iowa's RB rotation (Jordan Canzeri might have that ability, but he's not getting touches in this offense, for whatever reason), but they can patiently read blocks, hit open holes, and pick up yards after contact. That description applies a bit more to Weisman than his main backup, Damon Bullock, but Bullock has had some better performances of late. My hope is that Weisman is healthy for this game; he suffered an ankle injury against Michigan State four weeks ago and since then he's had 23 carries -- combined -- in Iowa's games against Ohio State and Northwestern. He hasn't appeared particularly hobbled, but that workload is unusually low for him. I think Iowa needs more than 11.5 carries from Weisman against Wisconsin if they want to win on Saturday.
B5Q: In eight games, Iowa's offensive line has only given up six sacks and is seventh in the nation in the amount of tackles for loss given up. Who leads the front five, and what have they done so well in protecting Rudock?
Ross: The leader of the offensive line is unquestionably junior LT Brandon Scherff. He's the latest in a long line of successful left tackles for Iowa and he'll be on an NFL roster -- either next year or the year after. He's been an absolute mauler in the run game (he absolutely steamrolled guys in the Ohio State game) and he's held up well in pass protection, too. Iowa's other tackle, Brett Van Sloten, has quietly had a successful season, too; he doesn't have the highlight reel of pancakes that Scherff has, but he doesn't have many glaring flaws and hasn't led to many negative plays for Iowa's offense. The interior of the line has been a little more hit-or-miss, especially the guards, and especially in pass protection. When Rudock has faced pressure, it's generally been via a pass rush up the middle. That said, in general, the offensive line has done a very nice job of protecting Rudock (Iowa's given up just 6 sacks all year, tied for 7th best nationally) as well as opening holes in the running game.
B5Q: Wisconsin's secondary has at times been its Achilles heel this season so far. What threats in the passing game should Badgers fans look for Saturday?
Ross: Iowa's leading receiver is Kevonte Martin-Manley, whose 32 receptions are almost twice as many as the next-highest reception total for another Iowa receiver (17 by C.J. Fiedorowicz). But Martin-Manley is primarily a possession receiver; he doesn't do a lot to stretch the field or create mismatches for defenses. Iowa's main field-stretching threat is Damond Powell, a JUCO transfer averaging 27.6 yards per catch. He's still working his way into the offense, but he has the ability to go for a big play if the secondary struggles. Other than Martin-Manley and Powell, Iowa's main receiving threats have been tight ends: Fiedorowicz has come on strong with touchdown catches in three straight games (he's a huge weapon near the end zone, with his combination of size and skill) and Duzey had a huge game against Ohio State (6 catches, 138 yards).
B5Q: Two-part question: 1. Wisconsin's defense can force Iowa's offense into trouble if...? 2. Iowa will drive the ball and give Wisconsin fits if...?
Ross: Wisconsin's defense can force Iowa's offense into trouble if they're able to stuff the run and make Iowa's offense one-dimensional. As noted above, Iowa's lost every game this year where Rudock has had to throw the ball 30+ times. If Wisconsin does that on Saturday, there's a good chance the Heartland Trophy will be staying in Madison for another year. Iowa will drive the ball and give Wisconsin fits if Iowa's offensive line can control the game and allow Weisman, Bullock, et al. to gain solid yards and keep drives ticking along.