After a disappointing overtime loss to No.2 Ohio State, a defeat that may have actually garnered the program more respect in the college football world, No.10 Wisconsin now prepare for its showdown against Iowa in Iowa City Saturday.
The 2015 Big Ten West Division champions, the Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) are considered by many to have under performed so far this season, having lost to FCS North Dakota State and Northwestern and narrowly escaping Rutgers and Minnesota. Many across the region will have their eyes on this rivalry game to see if Iowa can deliver against a top-end team and if Wisconsin can find its footing to obtain a much-needed win.
Here’s a closer look at Iowa.
Iowa is led by senior quarterback C.J. Beathard, who assumed the starting role last year in his first full season as the Hawkeyes’ signal caller. The veteran quarterback has thrown for 1,227 through seven games but has been exposed at some points, throwing four interceptions on the year. Even so, he has completed 101 of his 168 passing attempts (60.1 percent) for 11 touchdowns through the air.
Senior Riley McCarron leads a sneaky good group of receivers for the Hawks, leading the team in both receiving yards (289) and touchdowns (two). Iowa’s receiving corps took a massive hit earlier this season when senior wideout Matt VandeBerg suffered a broken foot in September. Fellow senior tight end George Kittle is also an extremely capable option on the receiving end, having brought in 17 receptions, 280 yards and three touchdowns on the year. However, Kittle is battling a foot sprain and is doubtful for Saturday.
This year, the Hawkeyes have a solid two-headed punch at running back with senior LeShun Daniels and junior Akrum Wadley sharing the load and being productive together. Daniels leads the team in the carries department and Wadley leads in rushing yards with 592 yards to Daniels’ 589. Wadley has a team-high eight scores on the season with Daniels close behind with six. Both players average over 83 yards per game.
While the line shines in run blocking, Iowa’s front gave up six sacks in a loss to Northwestern early in conference play, causing things to be shuffled. The line of Cole Croston (left tackle), Boone Myers (left guard), James Daniels (center), Sean Welsh (right guard) and Ike Boettger (right tackle) looked good at Minnesota but was banged up last week.
Iowa’s defense is by no means invincible, but the Hawkeye’s aren’t a pushover either. Iowa has shown the ability to keep a game close and low in scoring but have also played in offensive shootouts. Wisconsin has several playmakers on offense so the matchup between Wisconsin’s offense and Iowa’s defense (allowed 21 or more points four times this year against weaker opponents) should favor the Badgers.
The Hawkeyes are allowing an average of 19.1 points a game, while also allowing 151.9 yards on the ground and 219 yards in the air. Junior linebacker Josey Jewell leads Iowa in tackles (61) followed by Bo Bower – another junior linebacker - with 54. Defensive ends Matt Nelson and Anthony Nelson lead the team in sacks with four and tackle Jaleel Johnson comes right after with 3.5. The front seven is talented.
The focal point of Iowa’s defense is stud cornerback Desmond King, considered by many to be the nation’s top corner. With six passes broken up and an interception, he’s without a doubt Iowa’s best man in coverage. Opposite him is cornerback Greg Mabin, who has also played well with three passes broken up and a forced fumble, making the Hawkeyes very sound at the corners. The safety position has been uneven, so expect some routes over the middle by Wisconsin. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been vulnerable to throwing interceptions, so he’ll have to pick his marks carefully.