What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Andrew from Bucky's 5th Quarter, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Wisconsin.
1) Wisconsin's riding a 5-game winning streak and has firmly taken control of the inaugural Big Ten West division -- what's gone right for the Badgers in that stretch of games? Was the loss to Northwestern a turning point in the season for Wisconsin? Did they change anything in the aftermath of that game?
ANDREW: Health and understanding. They didn't have Warren Herring or Derek Watt for most of the year, Konrad Zagzebski, Marcus Trotter, and a couple of cornerbacks also missed time. In fact, Northwestern had the Badgers with a limited back-up nose tackle, no Herring, Trotter, or Devin Gaulden and Derrick Tindal got hurt during the game. The other big change was that Joel stave came back during the game. It didn't help, and no one liked the idea of going all portmanteau with Stave and Tanner McEvoy, but Tanner's not a drop back and scan the field passer. And the offense is just more efficient in general when they have one.
2) Wisconsin has had an almost absurd of number of good, productive running backs over the years -- but is Melvin Gordon the best of the bunch? Where does he rank among the pantheon of Badger running backs? And are there any tricks to slowing him down? How on Earth did Western Illinois hold Gordon to 38 yards on 17 carries?
ANDREW: Melvin Gordon the best ever? Honestly, I'm going to say yes. Ron Dayne was a spectacular power back, James White's versatile, and Montee Ball was productive. But Melvin Gordon's taken the athleticism that made him so deadly when he turned the corner in previous seasons and developed the vision and patience to pick and slide and cut to daylight when he goes between the tackles. I mean, I have no clue how to rank Alan Ameche, but I would definitely call him the best back of the modern era.
How to stop him? Western Illinois' strategy was to just go nine in the box and run blitz the entire game, it was that way when they were down 31-9. But otherwise? At this point in the year I don't think anything is going to slow Melvin Gordon down that isn't nefarious. He's probably not gonna threaten 400 again. But Tevin Coleman found his way through your defense. You have a genuine concern here.
3) Is the Badgers' anemic passing game (119th in the nation) a concern at all, or is it irrelevant because the Badger running game is so dominant right now?
ANDREW: Outside of the swirling stormy morass that was the Badgers-Rutgers game, the Badgers have been very accurate with their passes over the last month. But truth be told, if you should find yourself up by multiple scores late, most Badger fans do not believe they have the receiving horses to get themselves back into a game. But when you have Melvin Gordon and that defense, it's going to take something extra (or a bunch of self-inflicted wounds) for you to get that position. Long way to say minor concern, but there we go.
4) As impressive as Gordon and the Badger running game has been, I think the Wisconsin defense might be even more impressive this season. They rank near the top of the nation in virtually every category that matters (total defense, pass defense, run defense, scoring defense, F/+), which is awfully good. What's been the secret to the Badgers' defensive success this year?
ANDREW: There's a lot more speed on the field. Yeah, last year the Badgers had Beau Allen taking two guys and for most of the year Chris Borland tackled everything, But this year the front three is a lot more athletic, Herring's a skilled enough penetrator that he can take up two gaps and leave gaps open. This allows the linebackers and Michael Caputo to make all sorts of plays all over the field. Right now he leads the team in tackles with 70, and when you have a safety doing that and the defense is good? Means the Badgers are running a sound scheme as well.
5) Vince Biegel (44 tackles, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles) looks like he's been one of the stars of the Wisconsin defense this season -- what should Iowa fans know about him? Where's he likely to attack from? Which other defenders should Iowa fans be wary of on Saturday?
ANDREW: I've mentioned Herring and Caputo. Darius Hillary's been just dominant as a cornerback in the second half of the season. He took away Stefon Diggs, Leonte Carroo, and a part of the reason Tommy Armstrong Jr. struggled so bad last week was that the home run ball to Kenny Bell just wasn't there. And then there are the other linebackers, Derek Landisch has rivaled Biegel in terms of big plays (59 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 Pass Breakups, 3 QB Hurries, and 1 INT), Joe Schobert and Michael Trotter aren't as impactful as linebackers, but if you run away from Biegel or try to avoid Landisch, they will make you pay for it. Basically, you've got a front three that holds up, and a back eight that can make big plays. There's a lot to be wary about.
6) Are Wisconsin fans happy to have traded the Leaders division and annual games with Ohio State and Penn State for the West division and annual games with everyone in the "Quadrangle of Hate"? Are you excited about a schedule that has all three key rivals back-to-back-to-back this month?
ANDREW: Local hate is the best kind of hate. It's a lot easier to get up for a match-up against Iowa or Minnesota than a battle with Penn State. And when you add in the possibility of #WisconsinJustScoredAgain? Ooh wee. And put it this way, it's a lot more fun to earn your way into a division title. Backing in's not nearly as fun.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
ANDREW: Now I know I've said that the Badgers have this dominant defense where there's a lot of playmakers. And I honestly think Wisconsin is a better version of Minnesota and there's no need to mention any further how well that turned out for you. Because this season? The Badgers have had a tendency to start slow. That said, I trust the defense. I trust Melvin Gordon. Badgers 34, Iowa 10.
Thanks for being a good sport, Andrew, although I still hope your team
doesn't beat us loses by 50 on Saturday. You can check out the B5Q crew at Bucky's 5th Quarter. You can also follow Andrew on Twitter at @thegnc and Bucky's 5th Quarter at @B5Q. The Iowa-Wisconsin game is in Iowa City, IA on Saturday, November 22, and is scheduled to start at 2:30 pm CT, with television coverage from ABC/ESPN2.