Howe: Ah, the question of the year. I think we'll find out the next two weeks and, in particular, against Wisconsin. Truthfully the answer for me is that it's somewhere in the middle of those two. I don't think the Hawkeyes are as good as they played against Northwestern or as bad as the train-wreck performance in Minneapolis. Iowa has struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball this season and the specialists have been a liability for much of the year.
2, Jake Rudock was supposed to have taken a big step forward in his second year as the starter. He’s got a 3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which is a lot better than his 13 interceptions a year ago. Has Rudock improved and how’s the quarterback play been for Iowa?
Howe: I think he's better than a year ago but he's never going to be good enough for a segment of the Hawkeye fan base. Backup C.J. Beathard has shown off louder tools that Rudock and has captured the fancy of quite a few onlookers. Rudock has done nothing to lose his job, however, and he's been successful. He's not going to wow anyone with a series of spectacular plays and rarely will put the team on his back, but he's smart, reads defenses well and is an efficient game manager.
3, Iowa’s defense let Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman run for 219 yards. How did Coleman get his yards against the Hawkeyes and has Iowa improved its run defense with Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin coming in this weekend?
Howe: We'll see. The Hawkeyes need to prove they can stop a top-flight running attack. They've allowed more than 200 yards rushing in three of their last five games. The glaring weakness has been containing the edge. Coleman popped outside and outran everyone. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown gashed them with the read option as did Minnesota with Mitch Leidner and David Cobb. Iowa knew there would be struggles after graduating three NFL linebackers last season but that second level has remained susceptible for longer than anyone in Black and Gold had hoped.
4, Iowa has the second best pass defense in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin. Are the Hawkeyes getting that number because of solid secondary play or because their defensive line has constantly pressured quarterbacks?
Howe: Inconsistency at stopping the run has contributed to the passing numbers of the opposition being down. That said, this is Iowa's best line since '11 and cornerbacks Desmond King and Greg Mabin team up to be as good as any duo in the Kirk Ferentz Era. Drew Ott's growth at end might be the biggest reason the Hawkeyes have been able to stack up well against the pass. He receives a lot of one-on-one opportunities, as well with offenses focused on tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, both of whom have been invited to the Senior Bowl.
5, Iowa hosts Wisconsin and Nebraska and avoids Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State this season. How disappointed would fans be if Kirk Ferentz and Iowa don’t win the Big Ten West Division this season?
Howe: Some of the disappointment was absorbed with losses at Maryland and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes have not looked like a championship team this fall. With their current position, I think fans are cautiously optimistic that their team can put it all together in the next 10 days. To answer the question more directly, I think missing out on the division title will irritate quite a few of the Iowa followers. The pulse of the preseason focused on taking advantage of a favorable schedule with a lot of hope for a title. Fans are antsy after last winning the conference in 2004.
6, Where do you think the Hawkeyes have the edge over the Badgers? Where do you think Wisconsin has the edge?
Howe: The Hawkeyes would benefit from getting the tight ends involved as they did last week against Illinois. They can create mismatches with linebackers. It might be the deepest position on the team. The Badgers have shown they can run the ball consistently, which Iowa has not. To me, that's a clear edge.
7, What is the one thing Iowa needs to do well in order to win Saturday? Prediction?
Howe: I think Iowa's best chance is to lean on an offensive line that was expected to be a strength of this team going into the season. The Hawkeyes need to run the football with Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri to set up play action, something they've done at times this year, but not consistently. I think Wisconsin wins the game but I feel like the home team will make it a game to remember.