|After an embarrassing 48-7 home loss to Penn State, the Wisconsin Badgers find themselves exactly where Iowa was last week: 3-3 with three straight losses (at Michigan, vs Ohio State and vs Penn State). The Hawkeyes had lost three straight games by a combined 9 points before blowing out Indiana on Saturday. Wisconsin lost to Michigan and Ohio State by 2 and 3 points respectively, before completely laying down at home to a very good Penn State team. The Badgers’ season is skidding out of control while Iowa fans found 45 reasons to be optimistic (for a week, at least). What will we see when these two teams meet on Saturday? Here are a few things to watch for when the Hawkeyes battle the Badgers.|
The similarities between Iowa and Wisconsin are deep. Not only are the Badgers coached by a former Hawkeye player and former Ferentz assistant Bret Bielema, but both teams’ offensives have a very similar look. Each wants to establish the run behind their solid offensive lines while featuring strong, hard-running tailbacks with average to poor passing games. It certainly is no coincidence that recent meetings between these two teams have been very close and sometimes ugly. Iowa’s last win over the Badgers was in Madison during the 2005 season when the Hawkeyes spoiled Barry Alvarez’s final regular season game at Wisconsin with a 20-10 win. Wisconsin has since beaten the Hawks twice in a row, 24-21 in 2006, and 17-13 in last year’s struggle. Whatever happens this time around, you can be fairly confident that it is not going to be the prettiest Big Ten game on Saturday.
Wisconsin QB Controversy
Senior QB Allan Evridge was benched in Wisconsin’s loss to Penn State last weekend in favor of the junior signal caller Dustin Scherer. Scherer completed 9 of 17 passes for 115 yards with 1 interception and that was apparently enough for him to earn a start against Iowa. Word out of Madison is that Sherer has been taking most of the snaps with the 1st team in practice this week, and he is expected to make his first career start on Saturday in Iowa City. Evridge has been hurt by the turnover this year (aka throwing the ball to the other team), and Wisconsin is hoping that Sherer can do a better job of managing the game and keeping possession. Sherer will not be expected to win the game, but instead not to lose it. Sound familiar Hawkeye fans?
Iowa Run Defense
One of the brightest spots on this year’s Hawkeye team has been the run defense. Once again, Iowa is one of the best teams in the country at stopping the run. The Hawkeye run defense is ranked 18th in the nation allowing just 98.3 yards per game. Iowa has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher through seven games. The Hawkeyes held Michigan State’s Javon Ringer to just 91 yards, the only team to keep Ringer under 100 since their first game of the year at Cal. That streak will be tested again this weekend when P.J. Hill (who is somehow only a Junior?) and freshman John Clay. Hill has only been over 100-yards twice this season, but a lot of that has to do with the emergence of Clay. Hill’s average is down a bit from the previous two years, but he is still gaining 4.6 yards per carry. Clay has 303 yards on just 49 carries on the year which is good for an impressive 6.2 yard per carry average. As a team the Badgers are ranked 21st in the nation in rushing offense averaging 200.2 yards per game.
Hawkeye Running Backs
Of course the Hawkeyes have one of the best backs in the country on their side of the ball as well. Shonn Greene is now just 63 yards away from surpassing the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He has yet to be held under 100-yards in any game this year and has been averaging 6.2 yards per carry through Iowa’s seven games. Hopefully the evolving success of freshman Jewel Hampton can help lighten the load for Greene so that he is fresher during the 4th quarters of close games down the stretch. Hampton has shown signs of greatness this year and really burst onto the scene last week at Indiana after rushing for 114 yards on 22 carries in the Hawkeye win. It also sounds like Paki O’Meara will return this week after missing three straight games due to injury. Paki was the 2nd string back before suffering an injury in Iowa’s loss at Pittsburgh.
With five games left on the schedule and Iowa sitting at 4-3, every game is important. The Hawkeyes need three more wins to assure themselves a bowl berth this season. A win over Wisconsin would be great to take into the bye week before tough games at Illinois and home against Penn State. The Badgers are looking at this weekend’s game almost as a must win. After being picked to finish 2nd in the Big Ten again this preseason, Wisconsin has yet to win a conference game. Falling to 0-4 in the Big Ten and 3-4 overall would be a very quick drop from the top of the conference. No matter what happens, whichever team that wins is getting this stupid thing: