Iowa has reeled off two consecutive victories to regain momentum on their season a little more than halfway through the slate. They host Wisconsin in a game that definitely has Big Ten West title implications. The Hawkeyes are 5-2 with a 3-1 conference record while the Badgers are 4-2 and 1-2 in the Big Ten. However, both losses for Wisconsin came at the hands of top 5 teams Ohio State and Michigan. Iowa's pitfalls have come against Northwestern and North Dakota State.
The injury situation could loom large in this contest. Iowa has three starters whose availability is questionable, perhaps doubtful, in offensive linemen Boone Myers and Cole Croston and tight end George Kittle. Wisconsin gets back linebacker Vince Biegel after he missed a few starts with a foot injury. A new name cropped up on their injury list this week in nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. He's a large 340-pound man and an integral part of their 3-4 odd front. His availability has been described as questionable thus far.
KEYS TO WIN
1) KEEP BEATHARD STANDING - Iowa's offensive line has struggled a bit keeping Beathard upright this season. They've done a better job of it these past couple of weeks, but Wisconsin's front seven is a completely different animal compared to Minnesota and Purdue. Part of this is going to be on C.J., the offensive line, and the play calling. I'm willing to bet we don't see many 5 step drops from Iowa's offense on Saturday because they know what the outside linebackers from Wisconsin bring to the table. Joe Schobert got to the quarterback three times last season in this game. He's gone, but they still have very capable LB's to repeat his performance.
2) WIN TURNOVER BATTLE - This has defensive struggle written all over it. Iowa did a good job last season of turning over the Badgers, combine a couple of Desmond King interceptions with a bit of luck on that goal line fumble, and Iowa won the turnover battle in Madison and the game 10-6. This year's game is probably going to have a similar feel. Wisconsin starts a freshman quarterback and in a tough environment like Iowa City, he could turn it over a few times and that could be the difference in the ball game.
3) CONTROL THE BALL - Iowa needs to dominate the time of possession in this game. They need to keep it on the ground, chew some clock, and try to wear out this talented Wisconsin defense. The longer Iowa's offense can keep the Wisconsin defense on the field, it not only wears them out throughout the course of the game, but it keeps the offense on the sideline and as we all know, it's kind of hard to score when your offense isn't on the field. If Iowa can win the time of possession, they'll have a better shot at winning this game.
1) +2 AT LEAST IN TURNOVER MARGIN - Iowa has to win this area of the game and just being +1 might not do it. And if Iowa doesn't take care of the ball themselves, they probably have no chance. This offense has a very slim margin for the error, and combine that with the stifling Badger defense, and it's game over if they cough it up. This has the feel of a defensive struggle even without turnovers. The offense can't put themselves in a bigger hole or give themselves even more challenges. They also probably need help. A defensive score, or at least turnovers to create great field position, are a must.
2) START FAST - I'm not saying that the atmosphere and crowd at Kinnick will be dead at all. It actually will likely be geared up quite a bit. However, the Badgers are going from their crazy and raucous night atmosphere against the #2 team in the country in Camp Randall Stadium to an 11 a.m. local time kickoff in Iowa City. That's still quite the discrepancy in environments. Add that to the fact the Badgers could have used a lot of the tank up in heart breaking losses to Ohio State and Michigan, and they may not come out too sharp. All the elements are in play for Wisconsin to be flat out of the gate. Iowa has not started fast much this year. In fact, they've dug some holes. They can get an early advantage on Saturday if they start fast.
3) WHAT PASSING GAME BREAKS THROUGH - Yes, Wisconsin has thrown the ball much more effectively this year than Iowa but even what they have done through the air is nothing to write home to mom about. Iowa has struggled mightily through the air and the problems have varied between guys getting open, protection issues, timing issues, dropped balls, and errant throws. Most likely these teams are going to sell out against the run and each team is still going to try to run it. That's their identities and nothing you do is ever going to deter them from thinking they can run the ball down your throat. So it'll likely be a situation where both teams just bang against a wall for four quarters. That's what it was last year which resulted in a 10-6 score. The difference could be which team dials up a pass or connects on a pass at just the right time and get behind the secondary. It's likely going to happen.
HAWK TO ROCK
On offense I am going to roll with Riley McCarron. I think Iowa is going to try and get the ball in his hands on bubble screens and quick passes to keep CJB standing. Wisconsin is also giving up 205 yards per game though the air this year so Iowa could have some success in that department. I like McCarron to catch 6 passes for 68 yards and a TD. On defense, I'll take Desmond King. He got things going with his first interception of the year last week and he's facing a receiver group that isn't anything special and a freshman quarterback who will make mistakes. I'm willing to bet King finds his second interception in this game.
I don't think there will be one on offense this game. I think they bang their head against a wall a lot by running the ball just as the Badgers will. They won't stray from their identity. This game gets played in a box. Both teams love these games. But it leaves a lot to be desired on offense. If one does emerge, I think it's likely Jerminic Smith. He's the vertical threat. Someone is going to get behind the opponent's defense this game at just the right time. If it's Iowa, Jerminic Smith will be your guy. With the game being played in a phone booth and in a box, your defensive MVP will likely be someone in the front 7. Josey Jewell is as good a bet as any. The style of this game will ensure him a ton of tackles.
WISCONSIN 20 IOWA17
WISCONSIN 19 IOWA 13