Fresh off a 24-13 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Wisconsin Badgers are set to face off against their rivals, the Iowa Hawkeyes, in a bout that has major Big Ten Championship implications and the highly-contested Heartland Trophy on the line.
The Badgers and the Hawkeyes have held a storied rivalry, and Wisconsin will be looking for revenge after losing in a close 15-14 outing last season to Iowa, although it'll come under many different circumstances.
Wisconsin underwent significant change this offseason, overhauling their coaching staff, while welcoming in a number of new transfers, including quarterback Tanner Mordecai.
While Iowa didn't change much about their coaching staff, the Hawkeyes also looked to the transfer portal to solve their quarterback issues, landing quarterback Cade McNamara from the Michigan Wolverines.
However, McNamara won’t be the signal-caller suiting up for the Hawkeyes on Saturday; instead, it’ll be former quarterback Deacon Hill, who returns to Madison nearly one year after announcing his intentions to transfer from the program.
Hill, a redshirt sophomore, took over the starting job after McNamara went down two weeks ago, and is slated to earn his second career start against the Badgers on Saturday after the Hawkeyes defeated Purdue 20-14 last weekend.
How are the Badgers looking at the matchup, given the history between the two teams, as well as the storylines behind the quarterbacks?
For head coach Luke Fickell, it won’t be much of a change, as he didn't personally know Hill or see him play prior to the last few outings at Iowa, which takes away the personal side to the matchup.
“I think you just got to really take a good look at what he’s doing there,” Fickell said in regards to Hill. “I mean, there’s not a whole lot here other than the players obviously know who he is and know a lot more about him and probably are still connected to him and friends. But it’s hard to get into all that.”
Instead of looking at the storyline, Fickell pointed out the importance of remaining sound defensively, while understanding the way that Iowa is utilizing Hill and its skill position players.
“I think you just got to make sure you do your job and evaluate what it is that they’ve done and see how they’re using him in different ways. And that’s where I think they’ve evolved a little bit. They talk about it with the wide receivers, but I think all the transition that they’ve had this year and some of the injuries has kind of put them in a situation where they’ve got to do what they need to do to be successful and win.”
“And obviously [this is] going to be the best opportunity for him at quarterback,” Fickell said. “And I don’t know anything more than obviously what I’ve seen in the last game and a half from him.”
Do the Badgers see any schematic changes with Hill under center for the Hawkeyes?
Not really, according to safety Hunter Wohler, who still believes it's a similar run-first Iowa offense that will look to target tight ends, primarily Erick All.
“I don’t think there’s a crazy difference [in the Iowa offense between Cade McNamara and Deacon Hill],” Wohler said. “I think it’s still a run-first [offense]. Know they want to win the battle up front and then use their tight ends a bunch, whether that’s in the run game or passing.”
“Obviously, Erick All is a good player. They want to get him the ball as much as they can and then they’re going to take their shots deep, whether that’s trick plays or just throwing it over the top.”
Instead of viewing the differences, it’s more so understanding how Iowa wants to utilize its weapons, Wohler said ahead of Week 7.
“And so I don’t think there’s a huge difference in what they want to do with the two different quarterbacks. It’s just understanding how they want to attack.”
However, one of Hill’s top features is his arm strength, as running back Braelon Allen noted this week, which is something that Wisconsin players have seen firsthand and will look to prepare for.
“Obviously, the thing that stands out about [Iowa QB] Deacon [Hill] is his arm strength. So I think that’s a threat that we have to be prepared for,” Allen said.
Hill has a tough challenge ahead of him after completing 6/21 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in Week 6 against Purdue, but it'll surely be a reunion to watch between him and the Badgers on Saturday, especially given everything on the line.