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2022 opponent preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Iowa’s won just twice since 2010. I have nothing else to add to that very sad statistic.

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NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I like Madison. It is the midwestern version of Austin, TX which is why they can still churn out really good football teams. Austin is fun 12 months a year. Madison is an elite town six months a year and downright brutal in the winter so the football players have to commit to the weight room.

Anyways, football! Well, the Badgers haven’t been so much a thorn in Iowa’s side as a the sword in the appendages of the “it’s just a flesh wound” knight from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Iowa’s won just twice in 10 attempts since 2010. It’s the most lopsided the rivalry has been since ... ever? I wouldn’t be mad if the Big Ten didn’t protect this game with the addition of USC & UCLA.

Enough rambling.

5 Ws

Who: Wisconsin Badgers (Madison, WI; Big Ten Conference)
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (65-23 at Wisconsin, 84-42 overall)

What: The Battle of the Bull (Heartland Trophy)

When: November 12th, 2022

Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

Why: They’re in the same division and go wayyy back.

4 Stats

16: Since the rivalry flipped last decade, the Hawks have turned it over 16 times in 10 games. It’s been especially bad of late, with three games featuring the Hawkeyes cough the ball up 3+ times. Wisconsin, to be fair, hasn’t been much better with 15 over the same timespan, including a couple games with 4 turnovers.

10/11: Graham Mertz started off red-hot in last year’s game as Chryst dialed up a number of plays he was comfortable with while the Badgers built a 17-point lead. He finished 11/22. Quarterback play in the west...not that good!

3.5: The old adage of football is it’s about running it and stopping the opponent from running it and nothing is more clear here. Wisconsin has rushed for 3.5+ yards/carry eight times since 2010...all wins. Iowa’s only two victories were when they held the Badgers to 1.7 (2020) and 2.5 (2015).

17: Since 2005, the Badgers have had 17 running backs post 1000-yard seasons. Yeah, that’s 17 in 17. They missed in 2020 & 2015 but made up for it with double-doses in 2010 & 2013. Kinda feels like this might be another season where they can get two guys there unless the realllly lean into the next guy.

3 Guys

Braelon Allen (#0, RB, So, 6’2”, 235 lbs): Where does Wisconsin find these absolutely huge running backs?

The now-18-year-old (he was initially committed for the 2022 class but reclassified) is as unique a back as I’ve seen. He’s got size but somehow can make himself invisible behind his linemen a la Fred Russell. He’s patient but doesn’t really lose momentum when making cuts behind the line of scrimmage. And he’s just a load to bring down with his size and impressive shiftiness.

He went for 1,268 yards at 6.8 per and 12 touchdowns. If there’s a flaw in his game, it’s that he’s not particularly useful in the pass game (8 catches, 39 yards) but honestly, let’s just blame that on Graham Mertz.

Nick Herbig (#19, OLB, Jr, 6’2”, 228 lbs): The only returning linebacker amongst Wisconsin’s 2021 group, Herbig led Big Ten underclassmen with 9 sacks while adding 64 tackles and 14.5 for a loss. He’s the latest in a long line of great outside linebackers from Wisconsin. Normally they’re plucked from some pasture in The Dairy State but he was a four-star recruit out of Hawai’i.

Jay Shaw (#1, CB, 6th yr, 5’11”, 187 lbs): The Badgers lost four guys out of their secondary last season so they went to the portal to fill in the gaps. Shaw hails from future Big Ten team, UCLA, with 16 starts and 43 games played in his prior four seasons. Last season he was All-Pac 12 second team after snagging two interceptions and forcing a fumble. He finished with 27 tackles and four passes defended.

2 Cases

Best case: It starts with Iowa not shooting themselves in the foot. Iowa’s muffed punts and fumbled deep in their own territory multiple times against the Badgers, which have led to easy scores. Iowa gets an early lead and withstands Mertz’s solid play to open the game. With the lead, the Badgers get cute with a little too pass-happy of an offense which leads to a couple picks, including one for a score. Iowa doesn’t do much else on offense but continues to stifle Wisconsin and keep them out of the end zone for the low-scoring blowout (14-6).

Worst case: Iowa misses their special teams aficionados and biffs an early trip inside the red zone (missed FG) and ensuing punt return after a three and out. Wisconsin rumbles behind their huge line as Allen and Chaz Mellusi each tally 100-yard rushing games. Graham Mertz passes 6 times, all completions. The full Stocco has been achieved.

1 Question

What will the stakes of this game be and can Iowa meet them? Last season when Iowa went to Madison, the West more or less rode on coming out of that game the victors and Iowa laid the egg of all eggs two weeks after the David Bellening. Now, we know how the rest of the season went, with Iowa squeaking into the Big Ten Title Game after winning their last four games and Wisconsin dropping their final one to Minnesota.

If the division is on the line, let’s hope the Hawkeyes do all they can to make sure they’re the ones leaving the game with their destiny in their hands.

If the stakes are simply Albert the Bull ahead of two more trophy games, it’d still be nice to end the season getting the hardware.