Well fellow Iowa fans, it seems that we’ve reached the determinative game of the season a little earlier than normal this year. I think we all knew that this season would likely hinge on the outcome of our trip to Madison, though I’m not quite sure that we could have predicted just how bad the rest of the B1G West was going to be. Sure, we all knew that Nebraska was going to be Nebraska, and that Purdue would likely struggle under a new HC, and I, personally, though Illinois would take a step back, but I didn’t expect them to fall off the map, nor that Minnesota would regress so significantly with a new QB under center.
So, as it has almost always been, the final B1G West division crown will come down to the result of a game played by two programs birthed from the same family tree (well, almost). For most of my life Iowa and Wisconsin football have been fraternal twins, and the historical record for the series was literally a dead tie a decade ago. Sure, Wisconsin has taken 7 of the last 10 matchups, but this is a series that has seen a lot of ebb and flow over the years. Even under Luke Fickell this Wisconsin team has a lot in common with Iowa (at least if you don’t include the presence of a functional offense.
The Battle for the Bull will, almost certainly, determine which of these two teams gets to make a trip to Indianapolis in December to be utterly destroyed by whichever B1G East team makes it through the UM/OSU/PSU Mexican standoff on their way to the Division title, so let’s see what the numbers have to say about who the most likely sacrificial lamb will be.
Iowa - 249.2 ypg, 21.8 ppg
Wisconsin - 413.4 ypg, 31.4 ppg
Yeah, pretty sure we don’t need to spend much time here. Wisconsin’s offense is putting up a B1G leading 203.6 ypg and 3 TDs in the rushing game alone. Iowa’s offense is lucky to put up 80% of that in total offense. Now, Wisconsin hasn’t really faced much in the way of defense so far and when they did (last week against Rutgers) the offense only put up 14 total points (the defense provided them with a pick six, and S/T snagged them another 3), so they’re not exactly USC, but they’re definitely much better than Iowa. As for Iowa, the beleaguered offense will be facing the best defense it’s seen this year outside of Penn State, and we all know how that turned out.
Advantage - Wisconsin
Iowa - 324.5 ypg, 16.3 ppg
Wisconsin - 354.6ypg, 18.4 ppg
Can I just mention that 10 of the top 30 defenses in the country right now are teams that will play in the B1G starting in 2024, how scary is that? Iowa’s defense is very good, but it’s not elite like it was last year and while the defensive line slammed through the door last week against Purdue, this is Wisconsin and Tanner Mordecai is not Hudson Card. With that being said, Mordecai isn’t a god, and while Wisconsin’s groundgame is elite, it’s passing game isn’t lighting anyone up. Mordecai has a 1:1 TD to INT ratio so far this season, and Iowa has been known to intercept a fair number of passes. Still, Wisconsin is keeping Mordecai fairly clean (allowing 1.6 sacks per game) while bringing down opponent’s QB’s at a rate of 2.6 per game and surrendering just 3.7ypc on the ground.
Personally I think our defense matches up quite well against their offense and the not-quite-Air-Raid that Fickell/Longo are in the process of implementing in Madison, so while I think it’s an edge for Iowa, it is a very, very slight edge.
Advantage - Push (Iowa by a very thin hair)
Iowa - 48.0 ypp
Wisconsin - 42.6 ypp
As per usual, Tory Taylor gives us the edge here. I’d guess that Wisconsin will not be any more interested in giving Coop a chance to return, well, anything so that pretty much negates the return advantage, and I have no doubt that our punt unit will keep WIsconsin’s pedestrian return game in check, though Chimere Dike is certainly not someone we should underestimate.
Advantage - Iowa
Iowa - 76.9% FGM, 7.16 ppg
Wisconsin - 88.9% FGM, 8.2 ppg
Drew Stevens had a bad day Saturday. A blocked field goal is often a combined failure, but on Saturday it was mostly on Drew kicking a low-liner directly into the outstreched mitts of a Purdue lineman, and his second miss was just a wicked slice of a kick. Nathaniel Vakos was only called on to make 1 FG all day and he got the job done. I don’t expect a repeat of Drew’s poor performance, but it sounds like the weather isn’t going to be all that great, so he’ll need to be dialed in on Saturday.
Advantage - Wisconsin
Iowa - 69.67 ypg, 1 TD
Wisconsin - 34.2 ypg, 0 TDs
The numbers here would seem to lean in Iowa’s favor, but when you dig a little deeper you see that Wisconsin’s averages aren’t very high, because they haven’t had all that many return opportunities (9 total). Given Drew Stevens’ penchant for sending kickoffs through the endzone, I don’t imagine this changing much on Saturday, but Mother Nature may have something to say about that. Chimere Dike is averaging 32 ypr on Kickoffs, so he’s certainly no slouch when he has the chance to field a kick.
Kaden Wetjen has wheels, that’s for sure, and Coop is always dangerous on punt returns, but I’d wager that Wisconsin will be looking to keep the ball out of both of their hands as much as possible.
Advantage - Push
So what does this all add up to? Well, I’m sorry to say that I think it points to an Iowa loss in Madison and a trophy leaving the practice facility for at least a year. Wisconsin isn’t going to challenge any of the B1G 3 for a championship this season, but they certainly look to be in the catbird seat for the final B1G West crown. A loss in Madison doesn’t guarantee anything for either of these teams, but it will certainly put Iowa’s fate in the hands of Luke Fickell’s Badgers.
Numbers to Watch
0 - This is becoming a theme, and this week it’s here for a couple of reasons. First, Braelon Allen wears the number 0, and as he goes, so go the Wisconsin Badgers. In their 4 wins he’s averaging 113 yards and 1.75 tds, in their sole loss WaSU held him to just 20 yards on 7 carries. If the Iowa defense can keep him contained, it will go a long way towards a victory (especially with Chez Mellusi out for the season). Second, 0 is the number of catches made by Iowa WR’s against Purdue (the first time since 1978 that Iowa finished a game without a WR recording a single catch). If Deacon Hill cannot find a way to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers in space this week, there are going to be an awful lot of Badgers in the box looking to clamp down on KJ2.
13 - Another player number here, because like Donte Burks last week, Iowa is going to need to keep Chimere Dike under wraps. He doesn’t necessarily catch a lot of passes, but when he does they’re generally going for a chunk play (20.3 ypc). Last week we saw a rare move from Phil by putting Coop on Burks all day, I will not be surprised if we see a similar move against Dike.
19 - Iowa’s defense is currently allowing opponents to rack up ~19 first downs per game, and wouldn’t you know it, so is Wisconsin. Iowa’s offense is averaging 13 1st downs per game, while Wisconsin is averaging just south of 22. If Iowa’s offense can find something and get over that 19 average and the defense can hold serve, they might just have a chance to bring home the Bull.
27 - Iowa didn’t do much to improve it’s 3rd down conversion rate against Purdue, and Wisconsin isn’t giving up a whole lot of 3rd down conversions (36.11%). If Iowa can’t move the sticks and extend drives, Wisconsin’s tempo could wear the defense down fairly quickly. We’ve already seen Iowa struggle at times against no huddle offenses this year, and those teams were nowhere near as good as Wisconsin. Anything less than 40% probably sends Iowa home with a loss.
I can see this game going a few different ways, and only one of them leads to an Iowa victory. If we can drag the Badgers down into the mud and turn this game into a slopfest, we might just have enough of an edge on the defensive side of the ball to escape Madison victorious, the other two ways make me sad. Sadly, short of playing in a complete and utter downpour, I’m not sure we’ve got the hogs to beat Bucky this time around. But who knows, maybe Brian will start calling passing plays involving high percentage throws, and the offensive line comes out and looks even better than it did against Purdue. You never know what the B1G West will deliver and what better sendoff could we give it than a 13-10 slugfest between the two teams that have dominated the division for most of the last decade.
As always, GO HAWKS!