After slumping through games against Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State, the Hawkeyes let loose all of their frustrations on Indiana last week, pounding the Hoosiers by 36 points. On the same account, the Badgers have just been slumping, having their worst losing streak since 2004.
The Badgers will have a chance to break their skid and avoid their worst conference start since 1996 when Wisconsin travels to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes this Saturday in a match up of two teams that are failing to live up to preseason expectations.
After being picked second in the Big Ten, the Badgers (3-3) find themselves dead last in the conference and are coming off their worst home loss since 1989 after a 48-7 drubbing by now-third ranked Penn State.
Iowa is coming off a disappointing 6-6 campaign and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2000. After out scoring its first three opponents by a combined score of 105-8, Iowa (4-3) lost its next three games by a total of nine points.
"They're a hungry football team, kind of going through the same things we have," Bielema said. "These are two programs that are a lot a like. On film, I see a very good Iowa football team that lost a couple close games that could have easily bounced the other way. I could probably say the same about us but we're not going to cry over spilled milk."
In their win over Indiana, quarterback Ricky Stanzi finished 12-of-20 for 184 yards, eclipsing the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season. The real trademark of the Hawkeyes is the running game, which features running backs Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton, both of whom rushed for over 100 yards against Indiana.
In seven games this season, Greene has been Mr. Reliable when it comes to production, rushing for 100 yards in all seven games this season. With Iowa running a traditional-type offense and staying mostly away from the spread, the Hawkeyes rely on play action and the big play to generate offense.
"The run game helps the pass game and the pass game helps the run game," safety Chris Maragos said. "It puts pressure on me but the biggest thing for us is reading our keys, knowing our assignments and what we are expected to do. From there, execute the play as we should."
While Wisconsin's defense needs to worry about the play action, its offense has to get its house of cards in order. After he pulled Allan Evridge in the third quarter of last week's blowout loss in favor of junior Dustin Sherer, Bielema stated post game that this week's practices would determine who would start on Saturday. However, sources inside the program say that Sherer has seen an increase in playing time with the No.1 offense and is likely to start Saturday.
Regardless of who starts, Bielema stated that he's looking for a quarterback that can manage the game plan, be able to orchestrate the run game and make sound decisions in the passing game.
"The big thing we have going for us is we have two options that have done some good things," Bielema said. "Allan did some good things to get a drive going in the middle of the second quarter but unfortunately didn't have the best performance going down the stretch. We made the move to bring in Dustin and he did some good things but also on the same account didn't do everything. We'll make a decision and move forward."
The quarterback position isn't the only offensive position that the Badgers are trying to fix. In six games this season, Wisconsin has only two 100-yard rushers and none in conference play. Junior P.J. Hill is averaging 96 rushing per game and just 63.7 yards per conference game and has seen his carries decrease because of the emergence of freshman John Clay, who is proving to be a big-play threat in the backfield.
"This was the same team the sportswriters picked to finish second in the conference and I don't think they were throwing darts when they pick them," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's a team that is very talented, very experienced at most positions and very well coached. They've been good for a long time and they will be good for a long time. It doesn't matter if they are 0-3 or 3-0, they are a very good football team."
Wisconsin has won the last two games in the series but only by a combined seven points. With the road games about to get tougher for Wisconsin, the Badgers know that they can't worry about the past or their losing streak will become even greater.
"If we keep looking back at what we did wrong or what we could of done against the teams we've lost to, we're going to get beat again and Iowa is a good enough team to do that to us," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "We've got to be focused in and ready to play. It's great to get a win at the opponent's home with a statue to parade around. We have to handle our business though or they'll be parading around."
Wisconsin (3-3) vs. Iowa (4-3)
Date/Time - Saturday, October 18 at 11:00 a.m. CT
Arena – Kinnick Stadium (70,585/Grass)
Television - Big Ten Network (Mark Neely, Chris Martin, Glen Mason, Anthony Herron)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 41-40-2
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 17-13, on Sept. 22, 2007 in Madison
This will be the 84th meeting between Wisconsin and Iowa with the Hawkeyes holding a 23-15-1 advantage in Iowa City
The two teams meet annually for the Heartland Trophy. Debuted in 2004, the trophy is the statue of a bull that measures 30 inches tall, 36 inches long and 18 inches deep. Wisconsin is undefeated in its last four "trophy" games having swept both Iowa (Heartland Trophy) and Minnesota (Paul Bunyan Axe) in each of the last two seasons
This will be the first time since 2001 that neither team is ranked at the time of the game
UW head coach Bret Bielema was a four-year letterwinner as a defensive tackle at Iowa and was a co-captain his senior season. Bielema was also an assistant at Iowa from 1994-2001, serving on UI head coach Kirk Ferentz's staff for three seasons
Penn State entered last Saturday's game leading the Big Ten and ranking eighth in the country in rushing offense, averaging 256.7 yards per game on the ground. The Badgers limited PSU to 106 yards on 35 carries (3.0 ypc.). On the season, UW's opponents are averaging 120.7 yards rushing and 3.8 yards per carry
These two teams always played a close game, as six out of the past eight games in this series have been decided by 10 points or less. This year should be no different.
Iowa figured out what it needed to do in order to break its three-game losing streak, play the worst team in the conference and get your offense clicking. Wisconsin had the unfortunate pleasure of playing the top team in the conference to try to break its losing streak and, needless to say, the skid continues.
Wisconsin has no chemistry on offense, has fragile confidence on defense and is coming off its worst special teams performance of the season. Things really can't get much worse but the question is, can the Badgers put the last three games behind them and get things going in the right direction?
Iowa is a 3.5-point favorite on Saturday and the Badgers haven't won by more than six points in Iowa City since 1998. This game is a virtual toss up but because the Hawkeyes know what it is like to win a football game in the past month, I'll pick the home team.
Iowa 24, Wisconsin 20
Straight up: 5-1
Against the Spread: 5-1