The sports calendar has officially turned to dead. In our attempts to revive it, we’ll look ahead to each of the Iowa Hawkeyes’ opponents this fall to see what might be in store. Next up: The Wisconsin Badgers!
Wisconsin has won 5 of the last 6 games against the Hawkeyes. We all remember the 6th where Iowa escaped Camp Randall with a win en route to the perfect regular season.
Kirk Ferentz is 7-10 against the Badgers and 4-6 at home with Paul Chryst bearing a 2-1 record against Iowa. Wisconsin is, for lack of a better term, Iowa’s big brother. They’ve had better win percentages in all but 3 seasons since 2005. Iowa is 43-46-2 against Wisconsin all time. Kirk Ferentz was hilariously a part of the last tie in 1984.
Wisconsin won the division and darn near the conference at 13-1 last year. Their most notable regular season win was probably Michigan, ranked 19th, at home before beating #11 Miami in the Orange Bowl. Paul Chryst likes oranges. (see above) They spent all year ranked within the top 10 of the AP Poll.
all stats via sports-ref.com unless otherwise noted
Continuity is the name of the game for Wisconsin’s offense, as they bring back 9 starters, including all 5 offensive linemen. They paved the way for the team to average 5.0 yards per carry and only allowed 21 sacks. Per Phil Steele, they return 150 starts in the trenches. If the experience wasn’t enough to scare you, the smallest lineman is center Tyler Biadasz at 6’3”, 322 and all are at the 320-pound mark.
They’re also athletic and Wisconsin takes advantage of it with their playcalling.
(It actually felt like Beau Benzschawel was nice on this play)
Behind them is Jonathan Taylor, who casually ripped the through the Big Ten by posting 1977 rushing yards on 299 carries (6.6 per) in his true freshman campaign. The New Jersey product came to Wisconsin after initially committing to rutger and won a state title in the 100-meter dash. He rose quickly on the depth chart once he got on campus and that was all she wrote. If there’s one area Iowa could take advantage of Taylor, it’s his penchant for fumbling, as he had 5 last year. He was also only okay as the voice of Young Simba in Lion King.
In their passing game, they return Alex Hornibrook and their leading receiver Quintez Cephus Jr. who is coming off a broken leg. Passing the ball was rarely a necessity for Wisconsin, as they attempted little more than 23 passes per game. Hornibrook was inconsistent with 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Credit where it is due: he completed a good number of his throws at 62.3%. After failing when they needed him the most against OSU (19/40, 2 INTs), he posted his best game of the season with 4 TDs and 258 yards on 23/34 against Miami (FL).
If (big IF, but still) Wisconsin gets the Orange Bowl version of Hornibrook, their sights should be set higher than Indianapolis.
Though Troy Fumagalli of 9 fingers departs, they return their 3 leading wideouts between Cephus, A.J. Taylor, and Danny Davis. They combined for 16 touchdowns and each averaged over 15 yards a reception. Tight ends Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston have high potential and could make this an even more explosive passing game to put pressure on Iowa’s young corners.
Wisky’s defense was as good as ever, as they were third in the nation at 13.9 points allowed/game. That’s a little high, though, since Josh Jackson’s 2 TDs count against that balance. They return only four starters on the defensive side of the ball, so the opportunity might exist for a shootout akin to the 2010 matchup.
Up front, they return starters Olive Sagapolu and Isaiahh Loudermilk. If Sagapolu’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he made waves in the offseason doing this:
At nose tackle, his numbers won’t blow you away but he’ll be a force against Iowa’s inexperienced interior to free up their assembly line of linebackers.
Andrew Van Ginkel is the returning sack leader at 6.5 a game. He was one of five Badgers to notch double digit tackles for loss last year. Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards return from that group to form an impressive set of linebackers.
If there’s a weakness, it’s the defensive backs who return only starting safety D’Cota Dixon and nickel back Dontye Carrier-Williams. With Jim Leonhard calling the shots, it’s safe to say they will round into form by the end of the season. Will they be ready by the end of September? Hopefully not.
Wisconsin enters the season -300 favorites to win the West and it’s easy to see why. Their offense, especially the line, has aged like an Agropur cheddar and might be the best offense Madison has ever seen. The defense returns enough playmakers and has the reputation to backfill those who depart. Anyone who thinks Iowa is going to win this game right now is supremely optimistic or overly trusting of the Kinnick Kurse.
Weirder things have happened and Iowa will want to cleanse themselves of last year’s performance. The motive is there. Even though Wisconsin will enter with a plan to win - or dominate - Iowa has the weapons to exploit the Badgers’ defense. If Iowa can land the first haymaker, I like their chances.