Continuing with our weekly look at Iowa’s 2017 football opponents, it’s time to take a peak at the Wisconsin Badgers. They are coming off yet another solid campaign and will more than likely be right in the mix once again in the race for the Big Ten West title.
The Badgers faced a gauntlet of a schedule that had most experts assuming the worst record-wise in 2016. In true “death and taxes” fashion, Paul Chryst’s group stuck to what they do best and finished with 11 wins, a division title, and a New Year’s Six bowl victory. Their only two losses of the regular season were to Michigan and Ohio State, and the quality of the performances in those losses kept the Badgers hovering in or around the top ten of the major polls for most of the season. After losing a hard-fought contest to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship, the Badgers still qualified for the Cotton Bowl. There, they defeated P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan squad to cap off what can only be described as an extremely successful season.
Who did they lose?
Gone is quarterback Bart Houston, who was both a crutch and a safety net for the Badgers at quarterback as they struggled to hand over the reins to a freshman outright. They also lost Corey Clement, one of the more talented backs in the country over the last couple of seasons. Offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, linebacker T.J. Watt and linebacker Vince Biegel were all some of the most talented players in the country at their respective positions. They’ll be playing on Sundays this fall. The Badgers will also miss the leadership of corner Sojourn Shelton and safety Leo Musso in the secondary.
Who do they return?
Alex Hornibrook is going to be the main man under center this year after a freshman campaign that saw him split time with Houston. He’ll be protected by three of the best interior offensive lineman in the conference in guards Beau Benzschawel and Jon Dietzen, as well as center Michael Deiter. When Hornibrook looks downfield to throw, he’ll have Troy Fumagalli -- one of the top tight ends in the country -- and speedster Jazz Peavy as targets.
On defense, Wisconsin returns a formidable core from a dominant 2016 unit. Linebackers Ryan Connelly, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards combine to form one of the better trios in the Big Ten. On the defensive line, three guys with considerable playing time a year ago return. Defensive ends Alec James and Chikwe Obasih will flank a guy who should be one of the better interior d-lineman in the conference in Conor Sheehy. Cornerback Derrick Tindal and safety D’Cota Dixon also return.
Why should Iowa be worried?
The Hawkeyes are going to have a tough time consistently moving the ball against a talented and experienced defense. As good as the Hawkeye running game is, I’m not sure Iowa can win this game by just relying on the offensive line and Akrum Wadley. When the Hawkeyes need to pass, they could encounter some matchup issues with the Badger linebackers against the tight ends.
Why should Iowa not be worried?
This will be another slugfest between two teams very similar in the personnel department. Though Iowa can’t win with the run alone, there’s a good chance the Hawkeye running game will be more effective than Wisconsin’s. Additionally, Iowa has the players on defense to get after Hornibrook in obvious passing situations. The sophomore signal caller had a tendency to float a lot of passes a season ago when he was not able to set his feet. If the Iowa defense can control the run and get consistent pressure against the pass, the Hawkeyes should be in good shape.
Key player for Wisconsin
Alex Hornibrook — If he can stay poised in the pocket and find his open receivers, Wisconsin has a shot to control this one from start to finish. If the Badgers can’t rely on him to make plays and take care of the ball, advantage Iowa.
Key player for Iowa
James Daniels — The Iowa line needs to be able to control the trenches and win the battle against Wisconsin’s talented front seven. It all starts with the pivot man, both in securing the middle and recognizing the different looks the Badger front is going to show.