Thursday, we previewed Iowa's offense with Ross from Black Heart Gold Pants. How will the Badgers' offense, with Joel Stave, James White and former Hawkeyes commit Melvin Gordon, fare against Iowa's defense?
Fun with numbers
11th: National ranking for Wisconsin in total offense at 513.6 yards per game (third in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Indiana)
16th: National ranking for Wisconsin in scoring offense, at 39.9 points per game (tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Nebraska)
77th: National ranking for Wisconsin's passing offense, at 216.7 yards per game (seventh in the Big Ten)
8th: National ranking for Wisconsin's rushing offense, at 296.9 yards per game (first in the Big Ten)
12th: National ranking for Iowa in total defense, at 320.5 yards per game (third in the Big Ten behind Michigan State and Wisconsin)
12th: National ranking for Iowa in scoring defense, giving up 18.1 points per game (third in the Big Ten)
24th: National ranking for Iowa in rush defense, giving up 128.6 yards per game (fifth in the Big Ten)
14th: National ranking for Iowa in pass defense, giving up 191.9 yards per game (second in the Big Ten)
+2: Turnover margin for Iowa on the season (14 turnovers forced - 12 turnovers given up), tied for 52nd in the nation
42-for-88: Third-down offense efficiency by Wisconsin, 29th in the nation (sixth in the Big Ten)
42-for-118: Iowa's third-down defense efficiency, ranking 37th in the nation (sixth in the Big Ten)
Q&A with the other side:
B5Q: What base scheme do the Hawkeyes run, and what different looks have you seen out of a defense ranked 12th in points allowed?
Ross: Iowa runs a 4-3 defense and primarily leaves two safeties deep in cover-2 or quarters coverage. They don't deviate from that too much, either, although they will occasionally run some nickel. (The main reason they're loathe to leave 4-3 for nickel -- even when the offense puts 4+ receivers on the field -- is that Iowa's best defenders are their three linebackers, James Morris, Anthony Hitchens, and Christian Kirksey. Taking them off the field is generally not a good idea.)
B5Q: Wisconsin gains almost 300 yards a game on the ground, Iowa only gives up 128.6 and is a top-12 defense. Who anchors that defense, and what has helped Iowa succeed on the defensive side of the ball?
Ross: The anchors of the defensive line are probably tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis. They've both having pretty strong seasons this year, which is nice to see after both struggled with injuries earlier in their career. They've been plugging the middle of the defense all year, as well as generating some pressure on the QB at times. Defensive end has been a bit more of a rotation, but the main guys have been Dominic Alvis (who has been dealing with a back injury the last few weeks and may not play on Saturday) and Drew Ott, among Iowa's leaders in TFL, sacks, and QB hurries.
B5Q: Although giving up less than 130 yards rushing per game, Ohio State rushed for 273 yards a couple of weeks ago and Northwestern gained 225 last week against Iowa. What changed in the past couple weeks to make the Hawkeyes more susceptible to the ground game?
Ross: I wish I knew. At least with Ohio State the issue was talent-based: they have a good offensive line and some very good rushing threats (notably RB Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller), so it wasn't a huge shock that they were able to make hay in the ground game. The breakdowns against Northwestern last week were more alarming. Iowa's defense got absolutely manhandled by the Northwestern offensive line in the second half and Northwestern gained gobs of yards on simple draw plays. Needless to say, the performance of opposing running backs against Iowa over the last two games does NOT make us feel good about Wisconsin coming to town on Saturday.
B5Q: The secondary is allowing less than 200 yards passing per game. Who will cover senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis?
Ross: The secondary might be allowing fewer than 200 yards/game through the air, but they're still the weak link of the Iowa defense, particularly the safeties. Iowa has gotten burned for big pass plays in almost every game this season and miscommunication and bad positioning by one or both safeties has been the culprit more often than not If Abbredreis lines up on the outside, I would guess that SR CB B.J. Lowery will be the main guy covering him. Lowery has strong ball skills (three interceptions this season, including one stunner against Iowa State), but he can sometimes he a bit inconsistent and over-aggressive in his coverage, which leads to some big plays for the receivers he's covering.
B5Q: Who are some of the other playmakers and leaders on the Iowa front-seven that Wisconsin and Badgers fans should look for Saturday?
Ross: The main defensive playmakers for Iowa are the linebackers. James Morris and Anthony Hitchens are among the team leaders in tackles and Morris has been a turnover-generating force, with a team-best three interceptions and a forced fumble already this year. Morris and Hitchens are also among the team leaders in sacks, since Iowa's resorted to blitzing the linebackers a fair amount in order to generate pressure. The third linebacker, Kirksey, doesn't have the flashiest stats, but he's probably Iowa's best linebacker in pass coverage and he's also a very capable blitzer. Iowa will need very good performances from all three linebackers to beat the Badgers.
B5Q: Two-part question: 1. Wisconsin can win on the offensive side of the ball if...? 2. Iowa's defense will dominate Melvin Gordon and company if...?
Ross: Wisconsin can win on the offensive side of the ball if they do what they want to do, which is pound the ball on the ground. If their offensive line can control the line of scrimmage and consistently open up holes for the running backs, Wisconsin's offense will be just fine on Saturday. Iowa's defense will dominate Melvin Gordon and company if they get sick during the pre-game meal? I don't see a scenario in which Iowa's defense dominates a full-strength Badger rushing attack. My primary hope is damage limitation in the running game and getting enough stops to force the Badgers into clear passing downs, where the Iowa defense can either get stops or turnovers.