1. Is Wisconsin Iowa's biggest rival?
Jon-I think Iowa is Wisconsin's biggest rival, especially with Bret Bielema as coach. In fact, I think Iowa may be Northwestern & Illinois' biggest rival, too. Perhaps throw Minnesota in there as well. All of those programs used the Hayden Fry ‘rebuild it' model as the basis for the turnaround of their programs. ‘If Iowa can do it, why can't we?' Back to the question; is Wisconsin Iowa's biggest rival? Being that they recruit a lot of the same players, similar status in the conference and the Iowa envy Wisconsin fans have, sure, I will go along with that.
Rob- It's a tough call. There isn't a Michigan-Ohio State situation on the Hawkeyes' schedule. I think there are times when it's Wisconsin. I also think there are times when it's Minnesota or Illinois. Outside of conference, the Iowa State rivalry is as heated as any in-conference. If I was forced to name the biggest rival for Iowa, I would say Iowa State.
Brian- I think for it to be a great rivalry, it has to be pretty even, and that's what Iowa/Wisconsin has been over the years, with a series record of 41-41-2. The fact that Head Coach is a former Hawk, and the AD a Hayden Fry disciple just adds to the atmosphere. I think Iowa State is probably a bigger rival for obvious reasons, but you can't ask for much more out of a rivalry than the Hawks and Wisconsin have provided lately.
2. Does Iowa pay eextra attention to John Clay or do the Hawks play straight up?
Jon-Iowa seems to play everyone straight up, and stopping the run is always job one. So that means Mr. Clay will be a target, as will any Wisconsin back.
Rob - I think Norm Parker and the Hawkeyes play it straight. They're certainly more conscious of Clay than they would be with other backs, but with Iowa's goal to stop the run first, they shouldn't have to change anything they do. I think both teams play it straight up and bang heads.
Brian- Norm Parker's never been one to gameplan for a particular player, especially a player who plays into the perceived strength of the Iowa defense as-is. I'd say he'll play it just like any other team.
3. Do you think Iowa's defense is more geared towards stopping teams like Wisconsin, or spread offenses?
Jon-The style of offense Iowa will see from Wisconsin is the style of offense they see more practice days out of the year than any other. When Iowa convenes in the spring, they go against the Iowa offense for three weeks. When they get together in August, they go against the Iowa offense for three weeks in camp. This is the most familiar look they face. Sure, Wisconsin has its own nuances, but it's so similar to what Iowa's offense does. I like the matchup for Iowa.
Rob- While I think Iowa has improved against the spread through the years, there's no doubt in my mind that the Hawkeyes prefer to line up and play smash mouth football. The one guy that will love to see a more conventional attack is Pat Angerer. He's been running with tight ends and receivers this season and would much rather come up and blast John Clay.
Brian- Run teams, definitely. That's not to say that they haven't gotten better against the spread. The glaring weakness, exposed against Michigan, is when teams commit to running out of a spread formation. Particularly with read option plays or misdirection. If Iowa can shore that up in some way, possible with a 3-4 or nickel, it might be the last we hear of the "Iowa's D can't stop the spread" nonsense.
4. Do you believe the offense can get significantly better this year, as Kirk Ferentz keeps suggesting, or do you think its closer to being what its going to be?
Jon-We are probably running out of time for the offense to get exponentially better, but if Rick Stanzi can avoid the killer mistake, and just make ‘to be expected' mistakes, the offense gets a lot better. Keeping Tony Moeaki healthy, the offense gets a lot better. Getting to a point where you feel comfortable with your offensive line starters, the offense gets better. So yes, it can get better and I think it will.
Rob- I really don't think it's been that bad in recent weeks. It's had its bumps in the road, but much of the negative attention the unit has received relates to Stanzi's Pick Sixes. To answer the question, though, I think there's a much higher ceiling than what the Hawkeyes have hit to this point. Moeaki is a huge weapon that's been missing, and Johnson-Koulianos has been in and out of the lineup. Plus, the line and the receivers are getting better and the coaches are adding meat to the plates of Robinson and Wegher. If Stanzi and his mates get the interception issue figured out, they'll be in good shape. This unit doesn't get called for a lot of penalties and the backs have held onto the ball.
Brian- There are still a ton of plays on the field. Stanzi can still hit throws he's missing, Wegher and Robinson still can make better reads, receivers are still missing some routes or balls. It won't take a lot to add another TD or two to the final tally by the end of the year.
5. Were the stats against Ohio State a mirage, or is Wisconsin's defense actually that good?
Jon-I think the Ohio State offense is below average and that might be putting it nice. Wisconsin's rushing defense has been impressive this year. They have held all three Big Ten opponents to under 100 yards on the ground, including Michigan State. Northern Illinois hit the 100 mark exactly. Fresno State put up some yards, but that is a spread offense. So it's a solid group, but I think they are vulnerable to the pass and play action, which will come into play this week.
Rob- I think Wisconsin's defense is pretty good. I also think that Iowa's offense is better than Ohio State's at this juncture of the season. I really think this will be a battle of the two of the best defenses, if not the best, in the Big Ten. Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State might be able to claim that title by the end of the campaign, but Iowa and Wisconsin are right there with them now and could easily emerge on top.
Brian- I agree with both of these guys. Ohio State's offense, at this point, is pretty rancid. I haven't watched enough Big Ten ball to understand the Wisconsin defense too intimately, but anyone who gives up 28 points to the Gophers (yes, I know there was a defensive TD in there...) is cause for an eyebrow-raising.
6. Who is your pick to click?
Jon-Rick Stanzi. Wisconsin is going to sell out, like Michigan did, to stop Iowa's running attack. I think Iowa's play action game will be clicking and Stanzi will have a good game. No pick six this week, and that gives Iowa a great shot to win. I think the Hawks could break out this week on offense as far as execution. I might be picking the wrong week and the wrong location, but I appreciate Rick's short term memory and his teammates believe in him.
Rob- I'll say Pat Angerer. He's been running around chasing pass receivers the last few weeks, so he'll enjoy seeing an offense coming right at him. Iowa has not been as stellar against the run as in years past, but that has a lot to do with being spread out. Angerer can stay in the box this week and knock heads.
Brian- I've been off base on my picks to click lately, so I'm half tempted to pick Schofield or Tolzien, but I'll keep it honest and go with Marvin McNutt. No member of the defensive backfield for the Badgers is taller than 5-11. McNutt should be able to elevate and snag at least one touchdown, maybe two.