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Wisconsin offensive review: Badgers win battle in trenches vs. Iowa

Wisconsin's lowest offensive output of the year in terms of yards did not matter, as the use of tight end Jacob Pedersen and a grinding ground game won out in the end.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

Saturday's contest pitting the Wisconsin Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes was built up as a matchup of big-on-big, Big Boy Football. It did not disappoint in that regard, as the two teams' offensive and defensive lines tangled, clashed and fought all 60 minutes of the game.

However, the Badgers' offense, with many two-running back and two-tight end sets, along with a variation of the fly sweep, wore down the Hawkeyes enough to retain the Heartland Trophy after a 28-9 victory.

Personnel breakdown

Personnel (RB/TE) Run Pass Total TD Notes
31 2
2 fake fly sweeps, 19 yards for James White
Kneel Down
1 11 1 Stave: 6-of-10, 84 yards 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack
12 3

13 1

21 4 1
22 7


Total 1st half: 18 12 30 1

Personnel (RB/TE) Run Pass Total TD Notes
31 3
3 fake fly sweeps, 15 yards
Kneel Down 1
11 2 5
12 3 1 1 Stave to Abbrederis, 20-yard TD pass
13 1

21 1 1

22 13 1 1 White's first 4th-quarter TD: off power
23 2
1 White's second 4th-quarter TD: goal line
Total 2nd half: 26 8 34 3

Run/pass breakdown

Runs: 44

Passes: 20

Total plays: 64

Touchdowns: 4

Fun with numbers

478: Total yards gained by Wisconsin against Illinois two weeks ago

362: Total yards gained Saturday by Wisconsin against Iowa's defense, which ranked 12th in total defense, giving up only 320.5 yards per contest

25: Total yards in the first quarter against Iowa

337: Total yards in the final three quarters against Iowa

7.1: Yards per play against Illinois two weeks ago

5.7: Yards per play against Iowa Saturday

3: Catches by wide receiver Jared Abbrederis

3: Catches by the rest of the Badgers' receivers (two by Kenzel Doe, one by Jeff Duckworth)

5: Catches altogether by Badgers excluding Abbrederis and receivers (three by Jacob Pedersen and two byJames White)

18: Receptions for Pedersen in 2013 season

10: Receptions for Pedersen in last three games

2: Touchdowns for Pedersen in last three games

289: Total rushing yards by Wisconsin against Illinois two weeks ago

218: Total rushing yards by Wisconsin against Iowa Saturday

1: Number of turnovers by Wisconsin's offense

4-for-15: Wisconsin's third-down conversion rate against Iowa

1: Number of sacks given up by Wisconsin

10:05: Time of possession in the fourth quarter against Iowa

32:06: Time of possession total for Wisconsin against Iowa

3-for-3: Red-zone conversions by Wisconsin into touchdowns

14: Wisconsin points off Iowa turnovers

And lastly, a fun fact:

What went right

1. A dominant fourth-quarter performance. Wisconsin grinded and willed its way to securing the win at the end of the game, eating up 10:05 of the clock and scoring two touchdowns in the final quarter. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig only called four passing plays in the final 20 plays (technically two, as Stave scrambled twice, so those are counted as rushing plays), and only four of those plays involved sets with two or fewer tight ends.

2. Points off turnovers. Wisconsin's defense forced two interceptions by Iowa quarterbacks Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, which led to two Wisconsin touchdown drives thereafter. After the Darius Hillary interception in the third quarter, quarterback Joel Stave threw a strike to Abbrederis for a 20-yard touchdown the next play, increasing the Wisconsin lead to eight. After defensive linemen Pat Muldoon leapt in the air to intercept a Beathard pass in the fourth, the Badgers capitalized on a three-play, 25 yard-drive, with White taking it from 11 yards to put the Badgers up, 21-9.

3. James White. With everyone talking about the possible Heisman Trophy hopes of Melvin Gordon, the senior solidly ran for 132 yards on nearly 7 yards per carry, with two late scores. He also caught two passes for 19 yards out of the backfield as a nice compliment to the passing game. White will go down as one of the most underrated running backs to ever don a Wisconsin uniform.

4. Screen passes. Head coach Gary Andersen mentioned earlier this year how he wanted to incorporate more screen passes into the offense. Two of them worked nicely Saturday, as a screen to White out of the backfield gained 9 yards, while a Stave pass to Pedersen gained 11 in the second half that almost went for a touchdown if the senior wasn't tripped up at the 11-yard line.

5. The effectiveness of fly sweep without running it. Iowa did a very good job against Wisconsin's first fly sweep attempt by stuffing Gordon, but faking it using Corey Clement starting in the second quarter proved quite useful. Mostly running that formation out of a 31 personnel in an I-formation set, the zone runs set up with the fake helped White gain 19 yards on two carries in the first half, along with the team gaining 15 yards on three plays in the second half. Just the threat of it opens up other aspects of the running game as well as the play-action pass, as seen in the Northwestern game.

What went wrong

1. First-quarter offense. Four three-and-outs, an interception and 25 total yards. This was going into a terrible wind at Kinnick Stadium, against a Hawkeye defense motivated to stop the Badgers' potent running game. It was an ugly first 15 minutes.

2. Penalties on offense. The Badgers had seven penalties Saturday, five on the offense: two false starts, two holding calls and a delay of game. The only one that really affected a drive was a false start in the first quarter, but none were deemed as "drive killers," if you will, which bode well on the road.

3. No big runs from Gordon. The Hawkeyes' defense scouted out the fly sweep quite well, dropping Gordon for a 5-yard loss early in the game. Gordon ran well for the most part between the tackles, but his longest run was 13 yards for the day, a big accomplishment for Iowa.

Final thoughts

Many knew this game would be fought in the trenches and would be a low-scoring affair. Wisconsin wore down Iowa, and by converting big points off of Hawkeye turnovers, kept the Heartland Trophy in Madison.

Next up for Wisconsin is BYU with its 51st-ranked defense, 42nd in the nation against the run at 145.3 yards per game and 74th against the pass at 237.4 yards per.