UW v. Iowa, matchup analysis

A close look at the Badgers and Hawkeyes leading up to Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Iowa offense versus Wisconsin defense

Iowa projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

QB Drew Tate (Jr. 6-0, 185) MLB Mark Zalewski (Jr. 6-2, 228)
TB Albert Young (So. 5-10, 207) WLB Dontez Sanders (Sr. 6-1, 223)
FB Tom Busch (So. 5-11, 231) SLB LaMarr Watkins (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LT Ben Gates (Sr. 6-6, 286) RE Matt Shaughnessy (Fr. 6-6, 230)
LG Mike Jones (Jr. 6-5, 299) RT Nick Hayden (So. 6-5, 302)
C Brian Ferentz (Sr. 6-3, 282) LT Mike Newkirk (Fr. 6-3, 250)
RG Mike Elgin (Jr. 6-4, 277) LE Joe Monty (Jr. 6-2, 252)
RT Marshal Yanda (Jr. 6-4, 315) SS Joe Stellmacher (Jr. 6-1, 216)
TE Scott Chandler (Jr. 6-7, 242) FS Roderick Rogers (Jr. 6-2, 181)
WR Clinton Solomon (Sr. 6-3, 196) CB Levonne Rowan (Sr. 6-1, 191)
WR Matt Melloy (Sr. 6-3, 208) CB Allen Langford (Fr. 5-11, 187)

Yet again, on paper Wisconsin's defense is at a clear disadvantage. The Badgers run defense has struggled immensely, the team has had little to no success containing a mobile quarterback's ability to run or throw and Wisconsin has consistently given up big plays to good receivers.

Enter Iowa. Drew Tate, the preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, is an exceptional talent at the quarterback position. When Iowa's running back position was decimated by injuries last year, Tate was the team's most effective runner. He does not need to scramble as often this year: the Hawkeyes have a running game and they have done a much better job protecting Tate. Last season Iowa allowed 40 sacks, including 25 in conference games. So far this year Iowa has allowed 17 sacks, and just 10 in six league games.

Just like at running back, the offensive line has benefited from far greater health this season. Jones, Gates and Yanda juggled positions early in the season but have since settled in and the line has played well. That has proved fortuitous for the Hawkeye tailback Albert Young, who is second in the Big Ten in league-only rushing, averaging 128.7 yards per game. Only Minnesota's Laurence Maroney (144.0) has been more productive. UW's Brian Calhoun is fourth on that list at 112.1.

Tate has been effective, averaging 250.7 yards per game with a 139.5 efficiency rating in Big Ten contests. Tate does a good job of spreading the ball around, but his most dangerous target is certainly Clinton Solomon, a veteran, NFL-bound receiver who is averaging 17.5 yards per reception.

Tight end Scott Chandler leads the team with 33 receptions and is tied with Solomon for the team lead with 23 receptions in league-only games. All of Young's 17 receptions have come during Big Ten play.

Iowa's receiving corps may get a boost today from the return of receiver Ed Hinkel, who caught 20 passes in six games before going down with an injury and missing the past three. Both Solomon and Hinkel can cause a lot of trouble for the Badger secondary.

In Big Ten play, Wisconsin's defense is allowing 250.1 yards per game rushing and 241.3 through the air. In the past five games, UW has allowed an average of 296.6 yards per game on the ground and 534 total yards.

All of Wisconsin's weaknesses were on display last week when Tony Hunt ran all over the Badgers and Michael Robinson ran for more than 100 yards and threw for more than 200 yards, including two long touchdown passes to Deon Butler. Iowa has all the pieces to similarly dominate Saturday, but the wildcard is the amount of pride and emotion the Badgers will be playing with. This is not a defense that has suffered for lack of talent. It has suffered for lack of health, generally poor tackling and breakdowns that have proven costly. Perhaps, just this once, the talent will show for four quarters, rather than in little spurts, as it did in the third quarter last week.

Wisconsin offense versus Iowa defense

Iowa projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

MLB Abdul Hodge (Sr. 6-2, 234) QB John Stocco (Jr. 6-2, 197)
WLB Chad Greenway (Sr. 6-4, 244) TB Brian Calhoun (Jr. 5-10, 203)
OLB Edmond Miles (Jr. 6-1, 222) FB Chris Pressley (So. 6-1, 256)
DE Ken Iwebema (So. 6-4, 246) LT Joe Thomas (Jr. 6-8, 303)
DT Matt Kroul (Fr. 6-3, 256) LG Marcus Coleman (So. 6-6, 309)
DT Mitch King (Fr. 6-3, 247) C Donovan Raiola (Sr. 6-3, 294)
DE Bryan Mattison (So. 6-3, 262) RG Jason Palermo (Sr. 6-3, 307)
SS Miguel Merrick (Jr. 6-0, 203) RT Kraig Urbik (Fr. 6-6, 317)
FS Marcus Paschal (Jr. 6-0, 199) TE Owen Daniels (Sr. 6-3, 247)
CB Antwan Allen (Sr. 5-10, 180) WR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
CB Adam Shada (So. 6-1, 180) WR Jonathan Orr (Sr. 6-3, 190)

Fresh off being abused by Penn State's fierce defense, the Badgers matchup with the league's No. 3 scoring defense in Iowa. The Hawkeyes' talent-level, however, does not compare with what the Nittany Lions brought to the table.

Penn State shut down Brian Calhoun and the Badger running game and pressured quarterback John Stocco relentlessly on the back of one of the nation's most experienced defensive lines. Iowa, by contrast, came into this season with an extreme lack of experience up front. The undersized Hawkeye line starts two freshmen and a pair of sophomores, and only returned three letter-winners.

Like the Badgers', Iowa's 2004 defensive line was one of the nation's best and sent four players off to NFL camps. This season, the unit has struggled to provide a pass rush and to clog up the running game, helping opposing offenses gain 431.7 yards per game in Big Ten contests.

Iowa has been abysmal versus the pass, allowing 286.7 yards per conference game. Corners Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson are two of the league's best, but without a pass rush they have been left out to dry all too often. And Johnson is doubtful for Saturday with a hamstring injury that kept him out of last week's loss to Northwestern.

That bodes well for Wisconsin receivers Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr, who have each put together impressive seasons. Williams has 732 receiving yards and 42 receptions in 10 games. No team has been able to cover him consistently this season. Orr has 32 receptions for 545 yards and six touchdowns, giving the Badgers two receivers averaging at least 17 yards per reception.

Tight ends Jason Pociask and Owen Daniels are also effective as receivers, as is third receiver Brandon White, who is coming off his best pass receiving game of the season. Calhoun adds an extra dimension to UW's passing game; he has 42 catches for 487 yards.

Calhoun's effectiveness as a receiver, however, was diminished last week when UW was forced to keep him in to help block PSU's front four. That should not be a problem this week, though linebacker Chad Greenway is dangerous on the blitz. Greenway and Hodge are two of the nation's finest linebackers; players that, like Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, can actually track Calhoun. Greenway and Hodge, however, will need to deal with shedding the blocks of offensive linemen much more frequently than Posluszny had to last week. Despite Iowa's less productive defensive line, however, Greenway and Hodge have thrived, combining for 232 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss.

Wisconsin will look to establish the running game after it was shutdown last week. But the real key to this matchup is whether Iowa can do anything to slow down John Stocco and the Badgers' passing game.

Wisconsin versus Iowa special teams

Iowa projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

PK Kyle Schlicher (Jr. 5-9, 179) PK/KO Taylor Mehlhaff (So. 5-11, 179)
P/H Andy Fenstermaker (Jr. 6-3, 221) P/H Ken DeBauche (So. 6-2, 219)
LS Daniel Olszta (So. 5-11, 217) LS Steve Johnson (So. 6-3, 247)
PR Herb Grigsby (So. 6-0, 170) PR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
KR Shonn Greene (Fr. 5-11, 210) KR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)

Fenstermaker only averages 39.1 yards per punt, but opponents have only managed a paltry 38 punt return yards against him all season. Of his 37 punts, 18 have pinned the opponent inside the 20, just two have gone for touchbacks and only 11 have been returned. If that type of production keeps up, it bodes well for Iowa, which will want to keep the ball out of Williams' hands. Williams is averaging 16.3 yards per punt return this season and 29.8 yards per kick return, though he has received only 18 chances at the latter this year as teams continue to kick away from him.

Iowa kicker Kyle Schlicher has made 13 of 16 attempts this season, including a perfect 11-for-11 from inside 40 yards.

Wisconsin's special teams were a bit off last week, but have generally been very strong this season. Sophomore kicker Taylor Mehlhaff is 10 of 14, though he has not attempted a field goal in either of the past two games.

Final thoughts

Wisconsin's offense will get back on track this week, but Iowa has too much talent on defense to allow the Badgers to turn this into a shootout. The Hawkeyes have a more pronounced matchup advantage when they have the ball, but Wisconsin's defense is overdo for a better performance. In the last home game of the season, with all the emotion of senior day and Barry Alvarez's final game, no matter how much the team tries to downplay it, the Badgers' defense will step up and make enough plays to help UW eke out its ninth win of the season.

BadgerNation.com projection: Wisconsin 27, Iowa 24

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