1, From a team that returned many pieces from its 12-2 season last year, how surprising have the first seven games of the season been?
Derek Young: Not too surprising. Of course before the season you would have predicted Iowa wins over North Dakota State and Northwestern. However, one or two plays go their way and they’re 7-0 and not 5-2. A few plays don't go their way last year and they're 7-5 or 8-4 during the regular season. Though the record and results don't look as impressive this season, the difference from last year is only a few different plays.
2) C.J. Beathard is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference but the offense has been inconsistent. Why?
Young: Injuries have played a role. I'm not sure he's as healthy as he was at the beginning of the season last year. He's not as mobile or dangerous on the move. He's now without his leading receiver Matthew VandeBerg for the rest of the season. Tight end George Kittle may be unavailable this week. The passing game has struggled. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection and they've played just as many combinations along that front this year already as they did a season ago. Center James Daniels missed a couple games, Sean Welsh has missed a game and Cole Croston has missed a couple games and may be out another game. There hasn't been a lot of continuity on offense and penalties have plagued them. The receivers also aren't producing as much as they did a year ago.
3) One area where Iowa’s hasn’t struggled is the red zone, as its .958 success rate is tops in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. What kind of plays does Iowa typically run inside the 20 and who are the big touchdown targets?
Young: There isn't anything typical as it has varied throughout the season. VandeBerg was a target before he went down with an injury. Kittle is a target in the red zone but he may miss the game. Riley McCarron has become a key target at wide receiver. When you have as good of a run-blocking line as they have, along with two talented backs in LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, that helps a lot.
4) How has Iowa compensated for the loss of receiver Matthew VandeBerg?
Young: McCarron has stepped up. Sophomore Jerminic Smith continues to improve. Jay Scheel has also received more snaps but he's still searching for his breakout game. Kittle has been reliable and is a big-play tight end if he's available.
5) Tailbacks Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels rank third and fifth, respectively, in the Big Ten in rushing yards. How do they complement each other within the offense?
Young: From the outside looking in, Wadley is the speedster and the one most dangerous in open space while Daniels brings the power. They've become even better this year because Wadley has been more effective inside the tackles and Daniels has produced some big plays and breakaway runs, as well. While Wadley is known for speed and Daniels power, they've become quite the dynamic duo because both have rounded out their games this season.
6) Teams are understandably staying away from cornerback Desmond King. How have the other secondary players stepped up around him?
Young: They have at cornerback. Outside of a game or two, senior Greg Mabin has had a strong season and he has plenty of starts under his belt. When they go to dime and nickel packages, sophomore Josh Jackson and true freshman Manny Rugamba have been great as well. The area where they have struggled is with communication in the back end at times and safety play. The safeties aren't playing as well as they need them to. Whether it has been supplying coverage over the top too late, taking poor angles, or missing tackles, that has been the letdown in the secondary so far.
7) Iowa is 115th in the country in tackles for loss per game, averaging only 4.6 per game. Why have the Hawkeyes struggled getting to the quarterback?
Young: The stat is a little misleading. They've supplied plenty of pressure, whether it be blitzes or with a four-man rush. Iowa hasn't always gotten there to complete the sack but they have affected the play just enough to be a nuisance. Redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson has been particularly strong in this area. The lackluster part of it may have to do with their run defense. That is what the tackles for loss statistic is evidence of. The first handful of games they just weren't getting enough penetration, especially in the middle. At times they were being gashed in the running game. They've turned the tide on that for the most part, putting in strong efforts against Rutgers, Minnesota and Purdue. But those teams aren't Wisconsin, so that will be the challenge.
8) Who is the x-factor on Saturday for Iowa?
Young: Offensively I would say Jerminic Smith. He's a true vertical threat at receiver and that could be open as both teams will sell out to stop the running game on both sides. That should leave the back end susceptible to big plays or at least create opportunities to cash in. Defensively, it has to be anyone in the secondary. They'll commit to stopping the running game themselves, giving Wisconsin the opportunity to develop a passing attack. Teams are going to continue to make Alex Hornibrook beat them. That is the matchup to watch for when the Iowa defense is on the field. Who can make big plays happen in the passing game just might win this game?
The true x-factor in this game may be a statistic to keep an eye on more than any one player. Who forces the most turnovers in this one is key. Both offenses may struggle. They'll need help. Can they get help from the other team? That will be important.
9, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Iowa trouble? Where do you think the Hawkeyes have the edge over the Badgers?
Young: Iowa has struggled with teams that run a lot of eye candy in the backfield in terms of different movement, motions and jet-sweep types. Wisconsin will definitely employ that against the Hawkeyes to get them off their keys. Will Iowa be discipline enough, like they have in recent weeks, to stay on their keys and do their jobs instead of over pursuing or overreacting to the pre-snap action?
Iowa's edge is probably its secondary making it difficult for Hornibrook. They have excellent cornerbacks, and they're going to force him to beat them through the air, or at least try to. He's a good quarterback but he is still prone to mistakes.
10, What is the one thing Iowa needs to do well in order to win Saturday?
Young: They have to take care of their ball. Wisconsin has a stout defense and they make it difficult on you even if you are not turning it over. If you turn it over, you have no chance. Iowa has struggled to move the ball with any inconsistency this year while the Badgers have been stifling. It looks like a mismatch on paper, and it probably is, so they need to be smart with the ball and get some additional help from the defense in order to win this one.
The keys in this one is who can get a passing game going, who starts fast, and which team takes care of the ball the best. The final score in Madison a year ago was 10-6 and there was windy conditions to manage. There won't have to be windy conditions again for this one to be a low-scoring affair.