It's been a long, long week, and our scrota are still punctured after ISU delivered that cleated Inverted Widowmaker to our psyches. Trust us. We need this game.
Wisconsin has looked uncharacteristically shaky in all three contests this season. Naturally, since pollsters are idiots, they've still remained in the Top 10, because "you can't go down if you win" is some sort of immutable law that sees no problem in giving lasting authority to pre-season "rankings." Had Wisconsin started the year unranked, no pollster would have been impressed by their performance; there's a deceptively large 21-point win against a lousy Wazzu squad, a last-minute comeback at UNLV (?!), and a vicious cockfight against The Citadel. So a 7.5-point line against the Hawks isn't quite as insane as a "Just lost to Iowa State at Top 10" game would usually suggest, especially since the Hawkeyes have had a great week of practice*. Let's take a look at the matchups and see where the advantages may lie, and where the lies are advantages...**
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
Iowa OL vs. Wisconsin DL
The halcyon days of Steinbach, Gallery, and Nelson opening up giant holes are, well, long gone. While none of the starters seem particularly, y'know, bad, it's hard to point to anybody but Rafael Eubanks as an all-conference type. The fact that Iowa has faced such a weak schedule and still trails the rest of the conference in rushing, passing, and scoring must fall on the line's 10 shoulders. Getting big Dace Richardson back will help, but he's not in Big Ten shape yet. This unit needs serious mental improvement on Saturday, otherwise Wisconsin will be even more disruptive than Iowa State.
Iowa WR/TE vs. Wisconsin DB
Tony Moeaki leads the Hawkeyes with 170 receiving yards, tops among Big Ten tight ends. The next best Hawkeye? Andy Brodell, with 94 yards. Guys, it's been three fucking games. Not a single wideout can put themselves on pace for 400 yards on the season? Seriously?
Don't expect anything to change against Wisconsin. Jack Ikegwuonu (I spelled that on the first try. Beat that, fuckers!) is a
thug hard hitter who's capable of stealing your XBox a pick on any given play, and there's really no weaknesses anywhere in the back four. Unless the Badgers spend all day with nine in the box (not a terrible idea, really), Iowa will struggle through the air. Again. Sigh.
Iowa RB vs. Wisconsin LB
Albert Young and Damian Sims are still, ostensibly, a powerful duo at tailback. Sims, however, has looked like the more consistent threat with more than two yards to go. The duo's abilities will be for naught if the linebackers are allowed to run unmolested into the backfield, however. Jonathan Casillas and Elijah Hodge (yeah, Abdul's brother) can disrupt a play single-handedly. Except they've got four hands between them, so it's more, uh, four-handedly. Is that better or worse? Either way, yeah, Wisconsin should control this matchup.
Iowa QB vs. Wisconsin D
Uh, Jake... what the hell was that? The young lefty turned in an unquestionably awful performance in Ames last week; his passes were where drives went to die. He didn't connect on a long throw all afternoon, and his best play was a naked bootleg touchdown from 11 yards out. It's reassuring that he has been trying to use the game as a learning experience, but for crying out loud, if he gets rattled in fucking Ames...
Solid edge for the Badgers.
WHEN WISCONSIN HAS THE BALL
Wisconsin OL vs. Iowa DL
Iowa's second strongest unit is going against some big fucking dudes. The Wisconsin line goes anywhere from 300-330 across the board, so Mitch King and company are going to have to A) slip their blocks quickly and B) wrap up on Hill. Neither seems particularly easy, but a failure to do either will be disastrous. Once a giant dude like Kraig Urbik (Chuck Weis in pads) gets to the second level, a five-yard gain can turn into 40. Iowa can't let that happen; the odds aren't great, but the Hawkeyes are definitely capable of ruining the ground game before it starts.
All in all, this appears to be a slight edge to Wisconsin, and the play in these trenches will dictate both teams' chances at victory.
Wisconsin WR/TE vs. Iowa DB
Does Wisconsin even have wide receivers? And no, Hawkeye State, Tabetha doesn't count. As for the tight end, Travis Beckum is a stud that will test the coverage abilities of Iowa's men in the middle more than the secondary. As matchups go, this is probably the least important, but Iowa's stout back four have the edge.
Wisconsin RB vs. Iowa LB
P.J. Hill's full name is Princess Jasmine. Wisconsin went to the all-red home jumpsuit because the Princess said they'd be "cute." I don't like P.J. Hill.
Iowa's linebacking triumverate are tailor-made to stop a power running game. Sure, the Princess was an all-conference tailback last year, but this is Iowa's best linebacking corps against the run since the days of Matt Hughes and pre-ACL explosion Vernon Rollins. Iowa has a marginal edge here.
Wisconsin QB vs. Iowa D
Tyler Donovan's not bad, and his quick feet saved the day against UNLV. But still... why did the day need to be saved in the first place? Clearly, this kid must be a mediocre second best passer rating in the Big Ten whaaaaa??? Okay, the Big Ten is officially awful. Meanwhile, Iowa is the only team left who hasn't given up a touchdown this season. For all the bitching and moaning about Norm Parker's "bend but don't break" defense, they weren't the ones who lost the game last Saturday. They were given short fields for the entirety of the first half and kept stout when they had to. Sure, the bomb sucked, but that was one play where a time out should have been called. Sorry, but I'm not ready to take a shit on Norm for that one. I'll call this one a wash. Bucky shouldn't manage more than one touchdown, but their kicker will probably get a few close opportunities.
Iowa's special teams play has vascilated between uninspired and mediocre, with a few brief outliers of competence. The returners are not bad, especially Run-DJK, who nearly caused a riot at Jack Trice before being taken down at the ISU 25. Past that, everything about Iowa special teams is a liability. This must improve if Iowa wants a reasonable shot at success on Saturday. If Iowa continues to let opposing teams dictate the battles of field position through special teams, however, the pain will continue.
Student, teacher, dojo, Dragon Claw, etc. etc. Look, it's getting bad out and I need to make it halfway across town to start playing a FIFA drinking game before it starts pouring. Look for a 16-13 final that could go either way. Peace out fuckers.
*this could easily be false, but it seems like coaches always say that, so I'm really just cutting Kirk out as a middle man here. Uh, you're welcome, readers.
**this doesn't make any goddamn sense. I know.