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The Preview: Wisconsin

Can Iowa end its road woes against the Badgers?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Coming off a bye with no game film to review from the prior week, we’re trying something new. This week we’re taking a deep dive in the film to explore what Iowa’s upcoming opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers, bring to the table. As with all new things, we’d like your feedback. Did you like it? Is this something you’d like to see on a weekly basis? Let us know in the comments!

Big Picture

When you think about Wisconsin Badger football, you think about the power run game. This year’s version is every bit of a power run team, but not out of all of the traditional setups that many might associate with the prominent run offense. In Big Ten games (the barometer we will use for play-breakdowns) the Badgers are running the ball 77% of the time on 1st down! The breakdown of run/pass percentage on each down, by yards-to-go, is as follows:

1st Down: 77/23%

2nd Down: 60/40% (6+: 50/50% , 3-5: 85/15% , 2-0: 89/11%)

3rd Down: 53/47% (6+: 37/63% , 3-5: 43/57% , 2-0: 100% All 15 times)

When Wisconsin is successful on 1st down, which by running so often they keep themselves out of long-yardage situations, they remain on the ground the vast majority of the time. Even when facing 6+ yards to go on 3rd down they still run the ball pretty frequently. If they get to 3rd and short, they are going to run the ball, and it is nearly impossible to stop.

Wisconsin utilizes these jumbo-packages in short down situations, but they have been very successful running the ball out of shotgun as well. They utilize both gap and zone schemes out of their shotgun formations.

Not only can Wisconsin line up and smack you from power formations and shotgun, but they have shown a little Wildcat this season as well.

Quarterback Jack Coan is completing nearly 73% of his passes in conference games, but only has three touchdowns and two interceptions in those five games. Sophomore tight end Jake Ferguson has been his safety blanket this season where Coan has connected 21-26 attempts (81%) and converted 12 first downs in the process. Ferguson is an athletic guy at 6’5” 246 pounds and has contributed four explosive plays (20+ yards) on the season as well. In the event Wisconsin does pass on 3rd down, they are often looking for Ferguson.

Crazy Wisconsin stat: They have not had an official drop credited to the team all year.

Wisconsin will trust Coan to make a play and go empty backfield at times as well.

Illinois was able to make one of the game-changing plays by intercepting a late 3rd down pass to Ferguson. This is an opportunity for Iowa to create a turnover and bait Coan into a pass as well.

What will it take?

If Iowa wants to win this game, they need to win the explosive-play count. Iowa’s defense is yet to allow a 20+ yard run, but they have not faced a back like Taylor this season. What stands out this year when watching Taylor is his patience. It is an absolute must that Iowa’s defensive line and linebackers remain true to their gap responsibilities until Taylor is on the ground. While the Wisconsin offensive line is good, it is not the best group they have had in recent years. Taylor has had to make something out of nothing more this year (and he does it as well as anyone in the country).

Not only is Taylor effective in keeping Wisconsin on schedule with his consistent running, but he is an effective part of the pass game as well. On the season, he has four receiving touchdowns and is utilized in routes as well as a safety valve.

For much of the season, the Wisconsin defense appeared to have no deficits. That was until Illinois stunned (I’m still not sure that is a strong enough term) college football with a home win against Wisconsin. The thing is, Illinois never really did anything offensively in that game. They did not get into the red zone until their final possession and barely completed 40% of their passes. What they did, was strike on a couple of long plays.

When watching Wisconsin’s defense, their collective team speed really stands out. They are especially strong on the back-7 and linebacker Chris Orr (Sr. LB, 6’0” 224 lb) jumps off the screen. He is everywhere and they also utilize him effectively as a blitzer. Here, he gets home on a zone blitz.

Wisconsin uses that speed to bring blitzes from a variety of places. The last time we saw Iowa’s offensive line outside of Kinnick Stadium, the Wolverines made a living meeting Nate Stanley in the backfield. Iowa is going to need to be prepared for the creative actions of defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

If Iowa’s line is able to keep Stanley clean, they have a chance to create a few big plays through the air. One option is to get Ihmir Smith-Marsette or Tyrone Tracy on crossing routes to force Wisconsin to chase them across the field.

In what my be my favorite play on film this season, Ohio State fakes a crossing route and breaks straight upfield for an easy touchdown.

For plays like that to work, the offensive line is going to have to play their best game to date.

When Iowa faced another attacking defense, Michigan, we saw the emergence of Tyler Goodson as a receiving threat out of the backfield. I expect him to get a handful of targets against Wisconsin as well. Here, Ohio State was able to use rub action and slip the RB out of the backfield for a big gain to burn the blitz.

Final Report

Wisconsin knows exactly who they are and executes as well as any team in the country. Their offense and defense play to their strengths and force opponents to play their style of game. The Badgers were not able to generate consistent offense going against the dominate defensive line they faced in their most recent game, and Iowa has to hope the combination of A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston can create enough push to keep Taylor from breaking to the outside and utilize his exceptional speed.

The key to the game could come down to who plays best on 2nd down. If either offense is consistently in 3rd and long, it will be an uphill battle against these two suffocating defenses.