Well, it’s finally here: the game many of us had circled on the schedule back in August. Granted, Iowa wasn’t expected to drop games against North Dakota State and Northwestern (sorry for the reminder), but this game still figures to have a big impact on the West Division race. So what does Iowa need to do pull off its fourth rivalry win (yes, I’m counting Purdue, the bastards) of the season and re-establish itself as a contender in the West? Look no further than these keys (quick, someone send KF this article).
Run the ball effectively
This one is easy to pick out in any battle for the Heartland Trophy, and there’s no doubt that LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley have been easily the most effective pieces to Iowa’s offense so far this season. Wisconsin fields one of the best linebacking corps in the country (even if Vince Biegel is still hurt) and the Iowa offensive line will have their work cut out for them—especially if Cole Croston, Boone Meyers, and George Kittle (the best blocking TE on the roster) aren’t able to go.
The Hawkeyes need to emphasize Daniels and Wadley in a big way and would do well to find some more creative ways to get Wadley out in space (I wouldn’t mind seeing that wheel route again, for example). Here’s to hoping Greg Davis and Brian Ferentz have a few things up their sleeve.
I see Iowa’s special teams having an opportunity to significantly impact this game. Ron Coluzzi has been a godsend this season and will be crucial to keeping the Hawkeyes on the winning side of the field position battle. Additionally, this is the type of game where one or two big returns from Desmond King could completely change the outcome. Pardon the cliché, but if Iowa’s special teams are “special” (ugh I hate myself for that), the Hawks’ chances of pulling off the upset go up significantly.
How’s that for nice and vague? The Hawkeyes need to manufacture some impactful moments—explosive plays on offense, takeaways, sacks, etc. We saw last year just how important those types of plays were to the outcome of the game. On top of that, Iowa needs to capitalize on chances in the redzone, as they may be few and far between. That hasn’t been an issue for the Hawkeyes so far this season (they’re 96% redzone conversion rate are tops in the conference) and that trend will need to continue if Iowa is going to put up any sort of points on the Badgers.
Make Hornibrook beat you
Defensively, Iowa needs to consistently stuff Wisconsin running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. That’s always easier said than done against the Badgers and this year is no different. However, the Hawkeyes run defense seems to have taken some legitimate steps forward in recent weeks and may be up to the task. Simply put, the Iowa defense needs to limit the Wisconsin running game and force freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook to make plays.
Hornibrook has played alright considering the Badgers’ schedule thus far and his obvious inexperience, but has still thrown more interceptions than touchdowns on the year (six and five, respectively). There’s no doubt the Iowa defense will be chomping at the bit to exploit any mistakes on Hornibrook’s part.
The over/under I’ve seen for this game is 42.5 and quite frankly I’d be surprised if it’s even close to the over. I’m expecting a game quite similar to last year’s 10-6 bloodbath in Madison (with hopefully the same result). Expect a physical, close game that is decided by a couple of big plays or lucky bounces down the stretch. Ultimately, I see the Hawkeyes rallying behind a rejuvenated Kinnick Stadium crowd that’s thankful to watch an impactful game again and grinding out a win.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Wisconsin 13.