The Iowa Hawkeyes have awaken from the dead to find themselves in the thick of the Big Ten West race. While Iowa still needs Illinois to lose two of their final three matchups against Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern, the dream of a return trip to Indianapolis remains alive heading into Saturday. It’s fitting then that the team coming in to Kinnick Stadium is Wisconsin, not only the perennial gatekeeper in the West, but a border rival who has proven a very difficult opponent.
Coming into this matchup, our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have moved the line around a bit. After opening at Wisconsin -1.5 with an over/under at 36.5 total points, the line has now flipped to Iowa -1 with an over/under dropping down to 35.5 as of Friday morning.
At The Pants, we find ourselves similarly torn on the outcome of this game. Our staff has a 50-50 split in their predictions this week and on average, we’re calling for a 15-14 win for the Hawkeyes. That, of course, is after rounding. The true differential is less than half a point across our predictions. Tough to get much tighter than that.
Here’s a look at each individual staffer’s thoughts on how this one plays out.
The Hawkeyes seem to have finally figured some things out on the offensive side of the ball over the last two weeks. Which makes a matchup with a Wisconsin defense they have never been able to figure out super unfortunate. This young offensive line was just showing signs of life and now they get to square off with a 3-man front from the Badgers that has seemed to be a 12-sided Rubik’s cube for Brian Ferentz. I suspect the Hawkeyes really struggle to move the ball in this one and rely almost entirely on the defense to put them in a position to get points.
I do think Phil’s group is up to the challenge, but Braelon Allen is a stud and I suspect he will break one somewhere. Put me down for the defense turning over Graham Mertz at least once, maybe twice, to set up a short field for the offense but also giving up a big play they normally wouldn’t which ultimately leads to a touchdown. Given this offense, that seems insurmountable.
Prediction: Wisconsin 13, Iowa 9
Just when we start thinking we have a serviceable quarterback and offense we meet an old nemesis in Wisconsin’s defense. The Hawks have gotten the Badgers a few times recently, but over the course of the past number of years Jim Leonhard’s defense has been pretty salty against us. The Hawks have also made some rare special teams gaffs against Bucky. As I intimated earlier this week, I’m going back to my 2020 predictions after the Hawks got out of the gate with two straight losses. I bet against them each week as the Hawkeyes rattled off six straight dubs to end the season. I’m going all in and picking against us and doubting the boys in black and gold. Kirk, Brian, and all you Hawks, you don’t have a chance this Saturday. You probably shouldn’t even show up... You’re welcome. We each must do our part. As always, Go Hawks!
Prediction: Bucky 17, Iowa 13
Iowa has looked like a different team over the past two weeks, especially on offense. Yet there are reasons to be skeptical of the Hawkeyes’ ability to replicate their recent string of offensive successes against the Badgers. Wisconsin has consistently been able to get pressure on Iowa’s quarterbacks, and the Hawkeye line will be at a serious disadvantage against a Badger defense that will dare Petras to beat the blitz by throwing into the teeth of a ball-hawking secondary. Iowa’s defense will do its part, but Braelon Allen, Graham Mertz, and Chimere Dike will make just enough plays to pull out a win, creating a resurgence of angst in Iowa City ahead of the team’s road trip to Minneapolis.
Prediction: Wisconsin 14, Iowa 13
Let’s not kid ourselves. Iowa’s performance against Northwestern and Purdue is the bare minimum of what Iowa should do against Northwestern and Purdue in a year like this. But Wisconsin is flailing about and doesn’t have a quarterback, and its defense, while still good, isn’t Iowa levels of good. I see this going one of two ways: Iowa turns Mertz over and limits the run game and Iowa wins a close one, or Mertz does Wisconsin quarters playing in Kinnick seemingly always do: have a one-in-a-lifetime career game. I’ve been going with a theme of reversing trends this year and I’m sticking with it. I said before the season began that Iowa would beat Purdue and Wisconsin in this game, and it wouldn’t matter because the Hawkeyes weren’t going to Indy anyway. And so it goes.
Prediction: Iowa 21, Wisconsin 17
This game is going to heavily weigh on two matchups in my opinion. The first is this; Can Logan Jones create a stalemate, or at worst, slightly hold up against nose tackle Keeanu Benton?
Benton is a game wrecker in the middle of the Badger defense. The talented senior was able to win the battle last year vs Linderbaum and the result was Iowa rushing 30 times for only 28 yards. If Benton is blowing up the middle again on Saturday and creating early penetration, this game is over.
The second matchup to watch is can Iowa’s defense slow down the rushing attack of a good, run first team? In the 3 games the Hawkeyes have played against good opponents with a run first offense and featured running back, the Hawkeyes have not been that great. Here’s the breakdown:
Iowa State: 129 rushing yards, Jirehl Brock ran for 100 yards.
Michigan: 172 rushing yards. Blake Corum goes for 133 while he and Donovan Edwards averaged 4.76 yards a pop.
Illinois: 200 rushing yards. Chase Brown rushed for 146. Add in Reggie Love’s 3 carries and Illini backs averaged exactly the same yards per carry as Michigan with 4.76.
This cannot happen if Iowa is to win on Saturday. If Graham Mertz is afforded the luxury of constantly handing the ball off to Braelon Allen and Isaac Guerendo, the Hawkeyes will most likely lose. But…………………….………………. The Hawks are shutting it down Saturday!!!! I said two weeks ago that if Iowa can beat jNW and Purdue that the Hawks were winning out. I’m not backing down now! Add in the fact that boilerhawk is riding a two game winning streak while not putting in a prediction and you have an automatic W.
Iowa fist fights it’s way to a victory in freezing Kinnick Stadium on Saturday keeping their West Title hopes alive!
Prediction: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17
There have been proof of life moments for the offense the last two weeks and they did what they should do to Purdue and jNW. I’m not going to anoint them or anything, and they can’t have a similar mindset to what they had for the last 29 minutes of the Purdue game, but it’s nice to see some big play potential again.
Given how close most of these games with Wisconsin are, Iowa has to be full throttle all week. With the better defense and an offense that’s not flat lining, I think Iowa has just enough to get this over the line. The offensive line looks competent with the Colby-Plumb switches, Petras always does just enough to suck you back in, and they have firepower at running back in That Dude Kaleb Johnson. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be a rock fight, and I think Iowa is still standing at the end of this to get to bowl eligibility again.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Wisconsin 14
The Northwestern and Purdue games gave me a shot of hope that the Hawkeyes may have figured out how to be competent on offense. The Wildcat defense is trash, and while Purdue’s unit isn’t as bad they’re still not not going to make outside observers turn heads when you put up 24 on them. The only reason anyone did last week was because it was our offense putting up those points. “Iowa scored 24...that Iowa scored 24?”.
Still, progress is progress. But replicating the success of the past two weeks will be a much stiffer test against a Wisconsin team whose 3-4 defensive scheme has been the Iowa offense’s Gordian Knot for many a year. Better Iowa teams than this one haven’t been able to figure it out, so it’s going to take some effective and well-timed play calling and great execution to move the ball. The offensive line must assert itself so that the running game can have success, and so that it’s not always up to Petras to convert 2nd or 3rd and longs.
The two bluest of blue collar teams in the Big Ten in the coldest game of the season so far should make for a classic Heartland phone booth game. Look elsewhere for style points.
Prediction: Wisconsin 16, Iowa 14
This is going to be a boring, tight, classic Big Ten slugfest in the November cold. I do think our defense is better than the Wisconsin defense, but I also think our offense might suffer against the Badger defense. If the Iowa defense can get some points on the board in any capacity, I think we take the win. I JUST DON’T KNOW ANYMORE.
Prediction: Iowa 9, Wisconsin 6
So that’s how we see this one playing out. Let us know your prediction for this week’s matchup in the comments below.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.