Last season, the Badgers lost in a tight contest 15-14, with quarterback Graham Mertz under center and an injured Braelon Allen trying to fight his way through pain.
However, this season’s game comes under much different circumstances, as the Badgers have new representation and a new quarterback, while the Hawkeyes have the latter as well, going with former Wisconsin signal-caller Deacon Hill after top transfer Cade McNamara was lost for the season.
What’s the latest with the Hawkeyes and how can we expect Week 7 vs. the Badgers to go?
To get the latest scoop, we sat down with our SB Nation counterparts over at Black Heart Gold Pants, receiving some valuable insight from insider Jonah Parker on Iowa.
Q: What has changed offensively with the change from Cade McNamara to Deacon Hill offensively?
A: It’s really hard to decipher what exactly will be different this week based on what we have seen the last couple. With McNamara’s injury all season, we saw the Iowa offense severely limited. The Hawkeyes basically eliminated play-action passing, bootlegs, and rollouts from the playbook given Cade simply couldn’t move.
When he went down with the ACL against Michigan State, we saw offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz immediately revive those in-game, and Deacon Hill actually looked pretty good running that stuff. As Badger fans are aware, Hill isn’t a runner, but he was much more mobile than a gimpy McNamara and he was hitting throws on the move. Unfortunately, Iowa receivers accumulated 6 drops, almost all would have been first downs, and Hill’s stat sheet didn’t reflect how well he played in relief of McNamara that first outing.
Then a week ago, when you would have thought Brian would have spent a week crafting packages around Hill’s strengths and building on that play-action passing game, they seemed to totally abandon it. The running game actually looked decent against Purdue but for whatever reason, Iowa went to throwing largely out of empty sets and shotgun formations - stuff that would have suited McNamara well but was completely out of place a week ago.
Naturally, Hill struggled mightily. He overthrew a ton of passes and flat-out missed wide-open receivers over and over. He looked markedly worse in his first true start.
So we’ll see if Brian takes anything from those two experiences and comes up with something serviceable this week. History tells us he’s more likely to come up with a way to score zero points and move the ball less than the length of the football field all afternoon.
Q: How do you expect Iowa to attack Wisconsin offensively?
A: I don’t think it’s any secret the Hawkeyes want to do as Wisconsin has historically done and pound the rock on the ground. If Deacon Hill didn’t have to throw a pass all day, that would be a win. But the Badgers will surely pack the box and likely thwart any hopes of Iowa finding success on the ground and force Hill to make some throws.
As noted above, having expectations with Brian Ferentz’s playcalling is a fool’s errand. But if I were to take a shot at it, I would guess we see Brian try to make this as much of a rock fight as he can in some of the worst ways possible. He’s shown he would rather line up a third and fourth string (actually with injury I suppose we’re talking fourth and fifth string) tight end and telegraph that Iowa is trying to run than do anything to spread a defense out.
Look for first down runs probably 60% of the time with a 2nd down run 100% of the time after Iowa passes on first down. We finally saw the Hawkeyes throw a slant last week and even got our first in-breaking route from an outside receiver, but given the desire to avoid turnovers I think we see Hill’s passes largely come on screens (almost exclusively in obvious situations on third and long), hitches and deep shots (largely to the tight ends because wide receivers are overrated).
Around the goalline, if the defense or special teams happens to set the offense up there, look for Iowa to again go heavy with a fullback and multiple tight ends and try to cram it down Wisconsin’s throat (they can’t). After that doesn’t work, they’ll likely go empty shotgun and focus on tight end Erick All.
Frankly, calling anything Iowa is going to do on offense “attacking” is just a misnomer.
Q: Defensively, what has Iowa done well this season, and are there any changes from the normal dominant Iowa defense?
A: This Iowa defense is largely what you’ve come to expect from Iowa defenses under Phil Parker. As stubborn as Kirk and Brian Ferentz are, Parker is as well. At least he is stubborn in a system that works. That’s going to include two high safeties 99% of the time with largely zone coverage and a reluctance to bring pressure from anyone other than the front four.
They don’t do anything special for the most part, they’re just very disciplined in a system that counts on opponents to make a mistake over the course of 7, 8, 9 plays that will ultimately cap them out at 3 points. They capitalize on opponents getting impatient with the underneath stuff that’s available or the 3-4 yards per carry on the ground and have been as good as most other Iowa teams in recent memory at generating turnovers.
The one weak spot through the first five weeks was the pass rush. Iowa had only three sacks going into last week’s matchup with Purdue. They had created some mild pressure at times, but had failed to get home against a single power five opponent.
That changed last week when they racked up six sacks against the Boilers. While Parker did buck his trends and opted to bring some pressure out of the back seven, that largely came in obvious passing situations. The majority of the pressure Iowa got was finally generated by the front four with three of the six sacks coming from defensive tackles.
Q: What’s your game prediction, with the spread and over/under of 36.5?
A: Pain. I predict everyone who watches will suffer immense emotional damage. Iowa football is not fun to watch, period. Doing it against an opponent who has historically been just as happy to join the rock fight makes it worse. Add in the forecast for rain and I just can’t see a world where anyone watching at Camp Randall or on TV really enjoys those 3+ hours.
In the end, I suspect the Iowa offense does what it does while the defense does what it does. Wisconsin is going to have some success on the ground because that’s what they do, but I also think the Hawkeyes get at least one turnover out of Tanner Mordecai. Deacon Hill is good for at least one pick that ricochets off his receiver into a Badger bread basket to help even things out in that department and ultimately be enough for Wisconsin to put more points on the board.
Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13
(go ahead and laugh at the thought of Iowa getting to 13 here but recall the defense is accounting for more than 3 points per game coming in, and that’s before you factor in the short fields, etc that they create)