BadgerNation: Looking back, what was the biggest storyline that has come out about Iowa’s 4-0 start to season – the program’s first since 2009?
Derek Young: The biggest storyline is Kirk Ferentz and the coaching staff breaking tendencies. There has been a lot of unrest and criticism thrown his way for being too conservative, poor clock management and a reluctance to take any chances. Not this year. They've faked multiple field goals and punts, gone for it on multiple fourth downs near midfield, used rugby-style punting that they were totally against and have been aggressive with the ball even with under a minute left to go in the half.
They just have a different mindset and approach so far through four games. I'm not sure if that has to do with them realizing a change was necessary or if they just have a lot more confidence in this group. I think it may be a bit of both.
DY: Going into the season, if asked this, I would have said the win at Iowa State. It was the in-state rivalry game they had to have after losing three of the previous four against the Cyclones. I think now the answer would have to be the home victory over Pittsburgh. The manner it was done just made it even more dramatic by clinching the game with a last-second 57-yard field goal. It was something the fans desperately needed and it looked like a win that was just too good for the soul to ignore. The stadium remained packed until 20 minutes after the game.
BN: Iowa is averaging 37.8 points per game, very un-Hawkeye like. What have been some of the main reasons for the Hawkeye’s offensive explosion?
DY: The stats are a little skewed here. They scored 31 against Illinois State and Iowa State, and 27 against Pittsburgh. The 62 they put on North Texas really skews the stats some and 14 of those points came on defense. The offense has still been very effective. They have had three scoring drives over 90 yards this year. It's been about ball control and they've been best when able to establish the running game first. It's been typical Iowa football in that regard.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard is the difference maker. He not only can deliver the ball downfield to make plays through the air but can do damage on the ground. He's come close to 100 rushing yards twice already and a lot of his runs come in critical moments.
BN: Beathard is the most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten through four games. What has been the secret to his success?
DY: They haven't taken a ton of chances downfield but when they do, they've hit them. He's hit on a couple to wideout Tevaun Smith, to the tight ends Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle, and a few times to Jacob Hillyer and Matthew VandeBerg. He's an accurate passer with a strong arm, and he just isn't making the mistake. Having a balanced attack also helps. The running game has been great and has really opened things up for the offense. Again, the statistics could be a bit skewed. Beathard was 14-for-14 for over 250 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against North Texas. He didn't throw his first incomplete pass until the third quarter and only had three of them on the day.
BN: Iowa has put up these offensive numbers despite having no player in the top 10 in receiving yards. Who have been some of the contributors stepping up to the plate?
DY: Tevaun Smith is the deep threat and he's been a multi-year contributor. Going into last week, Matt VandeBerg was leading the Big Ten in receptions. He's now in second with 25 catches so he's a reliable weapon without the big-play ability of Smith. Jacob Hillyer plays a lot as the third wideout, and has broke loose a couple times so far. The tight ends haven't been used as much this year. Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle have been the guys on the field but normal starter Jake Duzey returned last week. He's much more of a threat in the passing game, especially vertically. His involvement will be something to watch. He was limited in his first action last week but should be full-go this week.
BN: What makes Jordan Canzeri (eight touchdowns in four games) so effective?
DY: North Texas made him pretty effective as half his touchdowns were last week against the Mean Green. He's the quick-burst back out of the group. What's helped him is that he's such a contrast to LeShun Daniels, who also gets a lot of carries. It just so happens that Canzeri is seeing the field and getting the ball more now with Daniels nursing a nagging ankle injury.
BN: Who are some of the defensive players that have emerged for Iowa?
DY: I think Desmond Kingis an all-conference type player at cornerback. He had already played a lot of football headed into this year and he's already been challenged by some of the best in the country this year, defending Allen Lazard of Iowa State and Tyler Boyd of Pittsburgh. King had two interceptions while defending Boyd. He's also been lethal in the return game. He's a special player. Everyone knows Drew Ott. He was all-conference a year ago. He hasn't been very effective the last two weeks as he is also dealing with an injury. It seemed like he started to feel better against North Texas, recording a sack and causing a fumble.
Defensive end Nate Meier has picked up the slack for Ott. He's recorded five sacks on the season already. The most improved position group is the linebackers. That was the worst part of the defense last year, and just as a whole they're much, much better but Wisconsin should offer more of a test.
BN: Where has King’s biggest impact come – in the secondary or in the return game?
DY: This is such a tough question. I would say on defense just because he always shows up in a big way at cornerback and he had one rough game as a returner. The game at Iowa State is one he'd like to have back, but he responded well and kept his head in it by clinching the game with an interception in the final minutes. Throw in the fact that he had two interceptions against Pittsburgh while defending Boyd, he's just had a terrific year. He's been singled out by both Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads and North Texas head coach Dan McCarney afterwards in their press conferences as just being a fantastic player with an NFL future.
BN: What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Iowa trouble? Where do you think the Hawkeyes have the edge over the Badgers?
DY: Despite Corey Clement being out, everyone knows that Wisconsin can still the run the ball well. They always do. Iowa was only giving up 55 yards on the ground a game, and giving up under two yards a carry after three games. But then last week happened, and North Texas went for over 150. That has to be a concern a week before you take on the Badgers.
Another concern is that Iowa was not able to sustain much of a pass rush against North Texas last Saturday. It struggled at times doing so against Pittsburgh as well. Maybe that has something to do with Drew Ott being limited, maybe it doesn't. But we all know Joel Stave can be dangerous if you give him time and allow him to pick apart a secondary.
I think Iowa's health could be a problem, too. Yes, Canzeri has eight touchdowns, but he's a much smaller back that has a history of durability concerns. If LeShun Daniels can't make more strides this week, that puts a lot of responsibility on Canzeri. He's showed signs of wearing down in games that he receives 15-20 carries or more. Iowa needs Daniels.
Though Joel Stave may find the time if Iowa can't provide a pass rush on him, I like the Iowa defensive backs. I think the Hawkeye secondary is one of the best in the Big Ten, maybe the best. I've already spoken about King but Greg Mabin is a pretty good cornerback in his own right. The safeties started out slow but have come on strong, especially Jordan Lomax.
BN: What is your prediction for Saturday?
My prediction is that this becomes a typical Iowa-Wisconsin football game where it becomes a battle of wills because both teams want to do the same thing. They both like to play smash-mouth football and shove the ball down the opponent's throat on the ground if they can. After that is established, time for the play action pass and catch the defense off guard with too many in the box or the safeties cheating towards the line of scrimmage. Both the Hawkeyes and Badgers play this way.
It will come down to who wins the battle of trenches. What team can stop the other or at least limit the impact of the other's rush offense? That's who wins the game. I think Wisconsin stops Iowa more than Iowa stops Wisconsin but it won't be easy.
Wisconsin 34 Iowa 26