Iowa run offense vs. Wisconsin run defense: The Hawkeyes' running attack will be put to the test in Madison. Fred Russell is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry in Big Ten action, with only two rushing touchdowns. In his limited playing time (27 carries), Jermelle Lewis is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Lewis had more carries than Russell last week against Minnesota and the same may hold true against the Badgers.
Wisconsin has been outstanding against the run in five of its seven Big Ten games. Against Northwestern…yes, Northwestern…and Minnesota (both road games), the Badgers gave up 681 rushing yards and 6.4 yards per carry. I'm guessing that Coach Barry Alvarez wasn't too thrilled with those results. In Wisconsin's other five league games, the Badgers only allowed 336 yards rushing—67.2 yards per game—and a miniscule 2.3 yards per carry. Advantage: PUSH.
Iowa pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense: In case you haven't heard the national TV announcers mention it 14 bajillion times this fall, Nathan Chandler is 6-7 and the tallest D-1 quarterback in the country. Big deal. What really matters is that Chandler—in his first season as Iowa's starting QB—has an 8-3 overall record. In Big Ten play, the senior has completed 54% of his throws for 1,336 yards (190 yards per game), eight TDs and seven interceptions.
In its seven Big Ten games, Wisconsin has allowed 1,749 passing yards (250 yards per game). Its opponents have completed 56% of their passes and thrown six interceptions. The Badgers were burned badly through the air by Penn State (379 passing yards) and Purdue (411 passing yards), but have done a pretty solid job otherwise. Advantage: WISCONSIN.
Wisconsin run offense vs. Iowa run defense: Lost in the "Lee Evans Show" against Michigan State last week was the fact that Dwayne Smith ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns. Smith has totaled 737 rushing yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and run for eight scores so far this season.
The Hawkeyes have been extremely stingy against the run versus Big Ten opponents. Iowa is only allowing 85.9 rushing yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry in its seven conference games. Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway are the Big Ten's top two tacklers this season. Advantage: IOWA.
Wisconsin pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: Jim Sorgi is coming off of a 380-yard, five-touchdown performance against Michigan State a week ago. I doubt that he'll equal those numbers against Iowa. But, Sorgi has put together a very good senior season, throwing for 2,039 yards, 16 TDs and only eight interceptions. He has a 153.3 quarterback rating. A big plus for Sorgi is that he has Lee Evans, the best receiver in the conference. Evans has 56 catches for 1,086 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
The Hawkeyes have given up 234 passing yards per game in the Big Ten this season…and have only intercepted two passes in league play. Matt Roth (11 sacks) is one of the Big Ten's top pass rushers and Iowa MUST put pressure on Sorgi in order to take him out of his rhythm…and possibly create a couple of turnovers. One thing Norm Parker did last week was blitz Bob Sanders, which would definitely have Sorgi's attention. Advantage: WISCONSIN.
Special Teams: Nate Kaeding is the best kicker in the nation. Adding Russell as a kick returner gives Iowa another dimension in its special teams. David Bradley has been a little inconsistent this season as the Hawkeyes' punter, but he booted a 75-yarder last Saturday. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002. With a victory in Madison, some Iowa fans would argue that the job Ferentz has done in 2003 would be just as impressive as the coaching job he did a year ago. Alvarez, a former Iowa assistant, is 99-65-4 (59%) in his 14th season in Madison. Advantage: IOWA.
Intangibles: Alvarez will be shooting for his 100th career victory. But, the real stakes in this one have to do with bowl invitations. The Hawkeyes are hoping that a victory will give them a good shot at a New Year's Day game. Of course, both of these teams have been guilty of pulling a "Jekyl-and-Hyde" on occasion. However, the worst days have been on the road for both of these teams and only one of them will be on the road on Saturday. Advantage: WISCONSIN.
PREDICTION: If the Hawkeyes can run the ball with some success in Madison, I think they have a good shot to make this a very close game. But, Iowa will also have to put plenty of pressure on Sorgi to disrupt the Wisconsin passing attack…Evans is just too good to let Sorgi sit back there and wait for him to break free.
IF Iowa can run the ball…and IF Iowa can somewhat contain Evans…then the big key to this game will be turnovers. Both of these teams have defenses that are capable of winning games when the offense is struggling. But, neither team can afford to give up a few short fields.
I hope that I'm wrong, but I think the Badgers' defense will come up with a couple of big plays…and Wisconsin will have better success at consistently moving the chains. (The good news is that if the Hawkeyes lose this one, they may get to play Nebraska in a bowl game.) FINAL: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 19.
Jon Miller's Thoughts: Marty, I feel ya. Most of the tangibles in this game are telling me to pick the Badgers by at least a touchdown. They are rolling, it's Senior Day, Coach Alvarez can get his 100th win, Iowa has been sick all week and who knows who has been practicing, Iowa has not won a road game this year outside of the state, etc.
But there are just some times when you have to throw all of that out the window: IOWA 23, WISCONSIN 20 Get the suntan lotion out, Hawkeye fans; you are going back to Florida.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)