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Wisconsin vs. Iowa: Answering the biggest questions ahead of Week 7

We answer several questions about Wisconsin ahead of their Week 7 matchup vs. Iowa.

The Wisconsin Badgers are set to face off against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Week 7, with both teams vying for the top spot in the Big Ten West, as well as the annual Heartland Trophy.

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 Badgers and how can we expect Week 7 vs. the Hawkeyes to go?

To get the latest scoop, we sat down with our SB Nation counterparts over at Black Heart Gold Pants (BHGP), answering some questions about the Badgers ahead of the matchup this weekend.

BHGP: The Badgers obviously have a new head coach running the show with Luke Fickell stepping in for the departed Paul Chryst. High level, how is he different philosophically from what we have come to know and hate love about the Badgers and how close is he to running his system at Wisconsin to the extent he wants?

B5Q: He is quite different philosophically, and the early stages have been seen with his recruiting efforts. Fickell has an established recruiting staff, which has produced a strong 2024 class, which currently ranks Top 30, and has significantly used social media to his advantage.

On the field, though, there have been several philosophical changes, but there’s still some time to see them through.

Offensively, Phil Longo’s scheme plays the space game, which usually involves more change-of-pace backs, as well as a strong deep threat, which the Badgers don’t really have yet.

Defensively, Mike Tressel wants to incorporate his dollar package, but doesn’t yet have the requisite down linemen to win at the line of scrimmage with just three bodies. Apart from that though, the Badgers are slowly starting to adapt to their new-look offense and defense.

BHGP: On the offensive side of the ball, the Badgers are continuing to pound the ball on the ground, but lost RB Chez Mellusi for the season. How does that impact how Fickell and the Badgers want to approach the running game and what should Hawkeye fans expect to see out of Braelon Allen and the backs who remain in the rotation?

B5Q: It impacts the Badgers in that they now lost their lone rotational change-of-pace back, which Longo clearly valued, seeing the increase in volume for Mellusi from year to year.

However, the Badgers did get valuable contributions from backup running back Jackson Acker, who rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries and ran hard with authority vs. Rutgers. I do think the Badgers gameplan remains the same around the run, but expect a slight uptick in volume for Braelon Allen, who has shown he can carry the load in the past.

BHGP: Staying on the offensive side of the ball, as with Iowa the Badgers also tapped the transfer portal to bolster their passing game with the addition of Tanner Mordecai. What does he bring to the offense vs Graham Mertz a season ago and how has the Wisconsin passing attack evolved under Luke Fickell?

B5Q: Tanner Mordecai provides different elements to the offense than Graham Mertz that make fans understand why the Badgers tapped into the portal.

One, he’s more accurate. Mordecai may have similar arm strength to Mertz, but he utilizes it more efficiently.

Two, he provides experience in an offense similar to Phil Longo’s, which is an integral part of quarterbacks in the RPO-based system.

Overall though, the passing attack has evolved significantly, working primarily out of shotgun, and throwing the ball at a higher clip. The difference has been virtually zero looks out of under-center packages, as well as a number of quick-hitting concepts, such as slants, hitches, and others.

BHGP: Over on the defensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t take much more than a couple of 4th graders to stop the Iowa offense but the Badgers boast quite a bit more than that with the 20th-ranked scoring defense in the nation giving up just over 18 points per game. Has anything changed with the Wisconsin defensive scheme vs what we saw from DC Jim Leonhard and how do you expect the Badgers to attack this woeful Iowa offense on Saturday?

B5Q: There have been a few defensive changes, such as the incorporation of the dollar position, but the fronts between Leonhard and Tressel have been similar. The Badgers are running a variation of the 3-3-5 defense, which initially was a 3-2-6 under Tressel over the first few weeks, with three safety looks being the norm.

However, Wisconsin changed its outlook to their old 2-4-5 to defend the run against Rutgers, removing that third safety to stack the box with an extra down lineman, and I’d expect the same against run-heavy Iowa, with press-man coverage to the boundary side and off coverage to the field side.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. The Badgers opened as 9.5-point favorites over on DraftKings Sportsbook. That number has edged higher to Wisconsin -10 with an over/under continuing to drop to just 36.5 total points. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?

B5Q: This one was set up to be the most important game of the year for both teams, given the Big Ten West implications, but things took a turn when Iowa starter Cade McNamara suffered an injury.

Iowa has muscled through consecutive wins under Deacon Hill due to strong defensive and special teams play, but I can’t see that occurring against Wisconsin.

I do think Iowa will be able to score twice in this game with some big-play potential, but Wisconsin should pull away with a win in this one, covering the spread. It all truly depends though on which team can start faster in this one.