While the Iowa Hawkeyes opened the season a pair of top-25 showdowns and already have a win in the first game to feature a pair of top-5 teams inside Kinnick Stadium in more than 30 years, they are set to take on the Wisconsin Badgers in perhaps the biggest game of the year on Saturday. The winner of this one controls their own destiny in the Big Ten West while the loser starts looking for answers.
As is always the case when these two teams face off, this one is expected to be a rock fight with each team focusing on defense and establishing the run. As such, the DraftKings Sportsbook over/under on this one is a crazy low 36.5 total points (down from an opening line of 37). That may not be low enough. The Badgers are the home favorites here with DraftKings now putting this one* at Wisconsin -3.5, down from -3 at the open.
At The Pants, we’re pretty evenly split on how this one turns out. The one thing we seem to be in complete agreement on is this one will not involve a ton of points. Only one staffer has this one hitting the over, and that’s just barely. Just over half of us are picking Wisconsin to win outright, but only three of us have them covering.
On average, we’re predicting a Wisconsin win 12-10. That puts us firmly on the under but has us taking Iowa with the 3.5 points at DraftKings. Here’s a look at our individual predictions for Saturday’s matchup.
This one has all the makings of a classic Iowa-Wisconsin rock fight. Both teams boast very good defenses. Neither team has an offense that scares you. Both teams want to run the ball and win with physicality. I like Iowa’s edge in special teams here, but playing this in Madison against a defense that has shown repeatedly that they can stifle Iowa’s run game is a major problem.
I suspect Iowa will be doing exactly what everyone else has done to them and selling out to stop the run. I just have more faith that Wisconsin will go heavy and lean on Iowa in a way the Hawkeye offensive line can’t. Petras and Mertz both make mistakes, but Wisconsin is better in the run game.
Wisconsin 13, Iowa 9
I believe a good defensive game is very entertaining. I believe two good defenses against struggling offenses is a punt-fest (so if you’re Aussie I guess that would be entertaining too). I don’t see either team converting many 3rd down and 5+ situations so 1st and 2nd down are even more important than usual. Which team is better suited for 1st and 2nd down? At this point I think Wisconsin. For Iowa to win, they need to flip that script and also get some big special teams plays to go their way. They also need LaPorta and Lachey to take advantage of linebackers’ over pursuit of the run game.
This prediction isn’t about me doubting this Iowa team, but more thinking this Wisconsin team has found it’s stride. They have a lot of talent, and I’d argue no team in the nation is better equipped to make their quarterback play obsolete.
Iowa 9 - Wisconsin 13
Wisconsin 10, Iowa 16
[Editor’s Note: Bartt is still south of the border and I have to assume he’s been imbibing a bit. He sent me his score prediction, and it’s the first one all year with Iowa on top. This cannot end well.]
There are reasons to be skeptical about both teams in this matchup. On one hand, Wisconsin’s defense is perfectly built to exploit Iowa’s struggles up front, and it’s tough to imagine the Hawkeye offense sustaining many long drives over the course of the day. On the other hand, Iowa’s offense is so incredibly one-dimensional that Phil Parker should be able to scheme to effectively take away Wisconsin’s run game and force them to attempt the one thing their offense is terrified to do: throw.
The Badgers are not the same team that started the season 1-3, but there are four factors in Iowa’s favor which could help them escape Madison with a win:
1. Iowa will be well-rested coming off a bye week and should be better prepared to sustain peak performance into the 4th quarter in an extremely physical game.
2. The Badgers have shown vulnerability in the deep passing game which Iowa was able to exploit last season.
3. Graham Mertz is a turnover machine going against a defense that is REALLY good at creating takeaways.
4. Iowa has a meaningful advantage on special teams which could play a major role in a tight contest.
The higher ranked team is 13-3 in this series over the past few decades, a trend which continues in this one. Iowa won’t win any style points, but they will win the game.
Iowa 10, Wisconsin 9
I just don’t know what my colleagues who are predicting an Iowa win are seeing. My fun fact of the day is Iowa has beaten Wisconsin in consecutive years approximately once since the invention of the iPhone, and for that sentiment, they don’t make an emoji.
Wisconsin 13, Iowa 10 (Iowa’s touchdown is a Charlie Jones punt return).
Here’s the thing, while Wisconsin & Iowa are waxed poetic as two sides of the same coin, Wisconsin has owned the matchup for pretty much a decade. Both teams look very similar and the deciding factor will be QB play. Iowa designs balance into their offense, however sideways that may be, which will expose them to a subpar Spencer Petras performance. Wisconsin is willing to run it 90% of the time to prevent the latest Mertzening.
Wisconsin 12, Iowa 6
It might sound cliche, but one loss is one loss, no matter who that loss comes against. Yes, Iowa’s offense failed to score much against Purdue and for the first time all season, Iowa’s defense was gashed by a passing attack from start to finish.
That said, Iowa’s offense still had success against the Boilermakers in terms of moving the ball and the defense, despite the yards given up, still showed pretty great positioning in the secondary and ability to correctly fit against running plays. In other words, despite a heartbreaking performance, it wasn’t a disaster of a performance, especially heading into a bye week; there are things to build on.
This game is going to be close, as Wisconsin is finally clicking on both sides, but Iowa has the talent advantage in this one and they have the pieces to really counter what Wisconsin likes to do on both sides of the ball. I’m taking Iowa in a coin flip.
Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17
So that’s how we see this one playing out. Here’s hoping Rob is clairvoyant and Iowa emerges with control of their destiny in the Big Ten West.
How do you see this one going? Let’s see those final predictions in the comments.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.