1. Take advantage of the Badger DL problems – Under Coach Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin has been known for having good offensive and defensive linemen. Senior DT Wendell Bryant is perhaps the best pass rushing interior lineman in the country, but three other linemen that began the year as starters are currently out for Saturday's game. In addition, although Bryant is great against the pass, he has been missing in action against the run at various points this year.
Much like Bryant, the team performance on defense for Wisconsin has been very inconsistent. The Badgers are 7th in the conference in rush defense, giving up an average of 172.3 yards per game. In total defense, UW is 6th at 380.4 yards per game. However, against Indiana, the Badgers gave up 63 points and allowed Hoosier RB Levon Williams to gain 280 rushing yards by himself. Williams had the yards, but Hoosier QB Antwaan Randle El really was the player that destroyed the Badger Defense.
Wisconsin rebounded from the IU performance to play very tough defense against the one-dimensional Ohio State Buckeyes, but then proceeded to give up over 400 passing yards to Illinois QB Kurt Kittner. Last week Michigan State was able to roll up immense amounts of yardage on the ground and in the air against the Badger Defense.
Does this mean that Iowa should be able to move the ball at will on Saturday like they did against Indiana two weeks ago? Probably not, unless the Hawk OL starts to run block again like they did against the Hoosiers. Ladell Betts gained 172 yards against IU, but managed only 40 yards in 20 carries against a tough Michigan front last week. Iowa committed too many penalties and turned the ball over too much last week, but the lack of the running game was probably the main reason they lost the game.
The Wisconsin Defense is hurt and embarrassed right now. They are playing nowhere close to the level that we saw from Michigan last week, but don't be surprised if they make a valiant stand in Madison this weekend. The Badgers were able to beat Ohio State because the Buckeyes could not find balance in their passing attack with QB Steve Bellisari.
Iowa has usually been able to move the ball with their passing game, but the run game has stalled at times against better teams. If they want to move the ball on Wisconsin the way that IU, Illinois, and MSU did this season, they are going to have to find balanced success. The pass blocking has been solid most of the season from the OL, but the run blocking must get better this week. The Hawks ran on the left side most of last week, but hopefully they will mix it up more this week and run more between C Bruce Nelson and G Alonzo Cunningham. Alonzo is a senior that has been starting for four years. He knows he only has 4 games left in his career, and the clock is ticking. Motivated seniors usually perform well, so getting behind ‘Zo might be a good idea.
2. Pick on the Badger Secondary – The Hawks need to establish the line of scrimmage on offense by running the ball. If they can do that, the play action passing game should open up. The Badger Secondary is not the veteran group that played in the 13-6 UW win in Iowa City last season. Instead of facing 2000 Jim Thorpe award winner CB Jamar Fletcher who left school for the NFL, his replacement is true freshman Scott Starks.
Similar to the pathetic crowd reaction to Kyle McCann in Iowa City last week, Starks has been hearing catcalls from the Badger "fans" in recent weeks as he has struggled with his play. The Hawks need to take advantage of this and take more shots downfield in the passing game this week. Michigan State had two new cornerbacks playing against the Hawks a few weeks ago, yet the passing game was not able to take advantage. That needs to be different this week.
Kahlil Hill has had a good senior year, but many of his catches are from short passes. When he has run longer routes in recent weeks, Iowa quarterbacks have not been able to get him the ball. Opening up the running game should in turn give the passing game more time to set up and go downfield.
Iowa doesn't need to spread the field or add more WRs to the lineup for success this week; they just need to execute what they are already running. Get Betts going on the ground, and then start getting the ball to Hill and Jones downfield.
3. Contain Anthony Davis – Michael Bennett was a good back for the Badgers last season as the Big Ten track champion followed in a line of several UW running backs that ran for over 1,000 yards. Many media members felt running back was a big question for Coach Alvarez going into the 2001 season since he had lost Bennett and Ron Dayne to the pros in the last two seasons.
Not only has Anthony Davis erased the questions surrounding the tailback position, but he may be the best college runner of all of the recent Badger 1,000-yard runners. Davis has run 199 times for 1,023 yards and 6 TDs so far this season. He may not have the track speed of Bennett, but he has comparable football speed. He hits the hole quicker than Dayne or Bennett, and breaks more tackles then Bennett ever did. He is not built anything like Dayne, but reads his blocks well and runs very physically for his size.
QB Jim Sorgi, QB Brooks Bollinger, and WR Lee Evans have made this season's passing attack one of the more dangerous UW attacks in recent years. Evans has already caught 56 passes for 1,188 yards and 9 TDs. However, no matter how dangerous Evans and the Badger passing game is, the Hawkeye Defense needs to control the line of scrimmage and make the Badgers one-dimensional. They are not going to shut Davis completely down as he is going to have some big carries in their spread formations. However, the Hawks can win if Davis has a lot of carries for little or no yardage. That will force the Badgers into more predictable situations and give Iowa a good chance at success.
Iowa RB Tavian Banks had a game in the 1997 season against Wisconsin in which he had some big runs, but many carries were unsuccessful. His game stats looked good that day because of the big runs, but the inconsistency in running the ball resulted in Iowa getting less than 20 points and their first loss to Wisconsin in over two decades. Iowa needs to turn the table on the Badgers this weekend.
4. Backups need to step up – It is hard enough to beat teams like Michigan and Wisconsin with a healthy team, but Iowa needs to beat Wisconsin with backups at key positions. DT Jerry Montgomery and his run stopping abilities might be out of the lineup this week because of ankle problems. CB Matt Stockdale was leading the team in pass breakups, and was having a fantastic senior year until suffering a season ending injury in the first half last week.
There are other Hawks that are banged up, but Montgomery and Stockdale will be the hardest to replace this week. Losing Stockdale last week was, perhaps, the big turning point in the game against Michigan as his replacement was not able to intercept or knock down a floating pass that resulted in a 77-yard completion. The score was 20-7 Iowa at the time, and Michigan was facing a 3rd and 15 at their own 20-yard line. Wisconsin has Lee Evans and other dangerous weapons, so whomever plays for Stockdale this weekend must be able to step up and play near the level that the other starters have been playing at.
The secondary for Iowa was supposed to be a weak spot going into the season, but Bennie Sapp, Bob Sanders, Stockdale, Shane Hall, and Chris Smith have played well enough to make it a strength. If Iowa is forced to change their coverages and schemes to cover up for the fact that Stockdale is not playing, the #1 ranked defense in the Big Ten is going to have problems.
The difference in the Badger passing game this season isn't so much that Brooks Bollinger or Jim Sorgi are much better passers, but rather that they have spread the field like Northwestern or Purdue. As a result, although they have more yardage through the air with more receivers and fewer blockers, the exposed Badger QBs have taken more shots from opposing pass rushers. Bollinger will play this week, but last week Coach Alvarez was forced because of injuries to use his 4th string QB.
5. Win the turnover/penalty battle – Iowa will win this game if they can win this battle, but you could say the same thing about most respectable teams in America. By the way, I think getting a punt blocked should be considered a turnover. Missing a field goal inside of 35 yards should also be considered a turnover.
Iowa has far too many turnovers if all the above-mentioned conditions count as such. The law of averages says that the punt team must be better this week, but it remains to be seen. Besides having issues with protection, the snaps by Kevin Worthy do not have a lot of velocity or consistent accuracy. The punt block last week was definitely a result of bad protection, but the snap did not get back to the punter very quickly.
Badger PR/KR Nick Davis is an established return threat on special teams, but so is Kahlil Hill. K Nate Kaeding is also a nice potential weapon for the Hawks. To win on the road, most teams have to be able to play defense, be sound on special teams, and hang onto the ball. Iowa was not sound in the special teams in the loss against Purdue, and turnovers and special team breakdowns cost the Hawks at MSU. To get a road win and reverse the trend, Iowa needs to win the game on special teams.