Offense: Offensive Tackle vs. Outside Linebacker
When Gary Andersen fled for the safety and calm of the Pacific Northwest, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda stayed on to champion Paul Chryst's defense. Aranda, who originally installed the 3-4 under Andersen, kept the same scheme in 2015 and the dividends appear to be paying off. Wisconsin is 18th in total defense, 11th in rushing defense, 4th in scoring defense and 5th in red zone defense. Admittedly, three of the four teams that Wisconsin defeated rank 115th or worse in total offense, but pitching a shutout twice and holding another team to only three points is impressive.
The direct beneficiaries of the 3-4 defense were outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel, who return as starters in 2015. Last season it was Biegel who was the primary pass rusher and Schobert who fell back into coverage. This season, Schobert, the 6'2, 236lb senior has taken over the pass rushing role and has been an absolute beast. He ranks first in the nation with 9.5 TFL and fifth in the nation with 6 sacks. Biegel, the 6'4, 246lb redshirt junior who rarely blitzes has only accumulated 5.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. Per Jon Miller:
Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert (9.5) and Vince Biegel (5.5) have combined for 15.0 tackles for loss, the most of any pair of LB's in the nation— Jon Miller (@HawkeyeNation) September 30, 2015
So yeah, Schobert and Biegel are a solid combination.
Like Illinois State did with David Corwin and Teddy Perkins earlier in the season, you can expect a good dose of Schobert and sometimes Biegel speed rushing from the outside. Now, Corwin and Perkins were ineffective...but Wisconsin isn't Illinois State. Myers and Boettger will not only need to maintain the pocket to keep Beathard on his feet but will also need to prevent Schobert and Biegel from sealing off the edge to keep the run game moving. As previously noted, Wisconsin has impressive defensive statistics against three of the worst offenses in the nation. The one team they did play with an offensive pulse, Alabama, ran for 238 yards and threw for 264. Slowing down Schobert and Biegel will be key to Iowa's offensive success and Myers and Boettger will be tasked with stopping them.
On Defense: Defensive End vs. Quarterback
I've been hearing chatter all week about how Wisconsin has finally found its running game because it rushed for over 300 yards against Hawaii. What's wrong with that sentence? If you're saying "Well, the part about Hawaii" you're absolutely correct. Hawaii is 109th in the nation in rush defense. Prior to playing Wisconsin they were 95th. Troy is ranked 118th. Miami (OH) is 86th. Alabama, who has the 4th best rush defense in the nation, held Wisconsin to 40 rushing yards. Forty. Four. Zero. The Badgers avered 1.9 YPC. Iowa is currently ranked 12th in the nation in run defense though they haven't played the strongest of running teams either.
This isn't to say that I think Iowa is going to shut Taiwan Deal or Dare Ogunbowale down. I think they'll get their carries and they'll get their yards. However, I am comfortable saying that neither of those guys is John Clay, Montee Ball, James White or Melvin Gordon and it's going to be tougher sledding than it has been in the past. That's why I think it will be Joel Stave that is the "game changer" for Wisconsin.
Stave is quietly having a solid year. He's thrown for 830 yards, completed 66% of his passes and has a TD/INT ratio of 7/2. Fortunately, unlike his predecessor Tanner McEvoy, Stave doesn't have the same mobility. He's already been sacked five times this season. In 2014, he was sacked ten times, but he didn't play the first four games of the season. Stave is the epitome of the pocket passer and Wisconsin's traditional offensive line of giant dairy eating men give him the time he needs.
That's why it's important for Meier and Ott/Hesse to get pressure on Stave and force him to make mistakes. Stave has thrown double-digit interceptions the last two seasons and can fall into the habit of locking onto one wide receiver. Last game against North Texas the Hawkeyes only notched three sacks and majority of them (if not all of them) came on blitzes. Cole Fisher led in quarterback hurries last with two. Ott had one hurry and a sack. Meier had a sack of his own. As dominating as that game was, you figured that there would've been more pressure on the QB. Not the case.
As previously mentioned, I think Wisconsin will have a difficult time running the ball but I seriously doubt that Iowa holds them under 100 yards. Stave will be the key to a Wisconsin victory and forcing him to turn the ball over will be the difference in this game. As Andy Brodell said:
@marcmorehouse Turnover Margin, Turnover Margin, and Turnover Margin. Take care of football and we usually win— Andy Brodell (@AndyBrodell) September 28, 2015
Turnover margin. Get Stave to turn the ball over and Iowa wins. Meier, Ott and Hesse should be responsible for bringing that pressure.