Greg, Don’t Panic
Wisconsin’s defense is statistically the best in the country, no question. They are first in total defense, 5th in rush defense, 3rd in pass efficiency defense, etc, etc… Their level of offense competition has not been good, but still…this 3-4 is a stout defense. I always think Iowa’s offense should be able to attack a 3-4, but for whatever reason it often seems to be a struggle. It seems like the offensive line has a hard timing making their reads and the offensive tackles have a harder time blocking the speed-rushing outside linebackers. As a result, the run game never quite clicks and the quarterback ends up getting pressured more. This is what happened at Maryland, who also runs a 3-4 defense.
What can’t happen, though, is for Greg Davis to go into panic mode if Iowa falls behind early or has a couple of bad drives. We’ve seen it too often in these type of games against better competition, when Davis defaults to his comfort zone of quick, short passes and the run game gets scrapped and Jake Rudock is asked to become someone he’s not. It just doesn’t work.
Iowa needs to find a way to run the ball. That probably is going to require more than just handing it off to Mark Weisman 20 times on inside zones. Iowa will need to try to stretch the field in both directions. I never feel like the Jonathan Parker sweep is used enough. It seems like they have a plan to use it in the first 10 plays and then forget that play exists for the rest of the game. I think another Tevaun Smith end-around would be in order. And getting Jordan Canzeri or Akrum Wadley going as a counter to Weisman would be fantastic. Find a way, Greg!
Limit the Rest of the Badgers
I’m done hearing about Melvin Gordon. He’s fantastic. That performance against Nebraska was fantastic. He’s going to be fantastic tomorrow. Let’s just give him 250 yards and move on. Northwestern has shown it is possible to let Gordon get his yards, but still limit the Wisconsin offense (mostly by forcing turnovers). It helps that the two Badger quarterbacks are not good at throwing the ball and there aren’t any really scary threats at receiver/tight end. The two combined only average about 12 completions a game for 140 yards.
Gordon isn’t the only one who can run, either… Corey Clement, who was injured last week but is expected to play tomorrow, is averaging over 6 yards per carry and has 742 yards and 8 TDs himself. And Tanner McEvoy, the running QB, is also a big threat running the ball. He has nearly 500 yards on the ground and averages over 9 yards per carry (which is more than Gordon!!).
So the Iowa defense can’t let these other guys kill them. Let Gordon get his yards and don’t sell out on him to the point where the entire offense opens up.
Win First Down
The way Iowa can put itself in position to make the Badgers throw the ball and to have successful drives is to win the battle on first downs. The Badgers haven’t been all that effective on third downs this year (converting just 39% of them), but they often are able to pick up first downs by running it on first and second down. Get Wisconsin in passing downs and that is a win for the defense.
For the offense, when Iowa has gotten into third and manageable situations, it has been very successful converting those third downs. Iowa’s actually 26th in the country on third downs. That success is driven in large part from Weisman’s ability to pick up 2 yards on third-and-short and on Rudock's ability to pick up 3rd-and-4 or 5 through the air.
Iowa is coming off its best offensive performance of the year in a game where it had 9 plays of 20+ yards. Those type of plays aren’t going to come easy against the Badgers. Iowa is going to need to find a way to create plays that turn the tide. They aren’t just going to chip away and put together a bunch of 10 play drives. There needs to be some big play boosts.
Parker hasn’t been having the same success on kick returns the past couple weeks, but he did provide a spark earlier in the season. This would be a good time for a long return to show up. Or a defensive score, blocked kick, etc… Iowa needs some players to step up.
It’s also time for the coaches to step up. It is now or never. Two games to win the West. It seems like Iowa always waits for a bowl game to bust out some of their more creative or exotic plays, but let’s see a fake punt, surprise on-side kick, a non-flea-flicker trick play… It’s time to empty the bag.
I almost never pick against Iowa…but I just don’t see a likely path to victory here. Iowa is going to have to win to turnover battle like Northwestern did, or have Wisconsin just start throwing the ball too much, like they did against Purdue, etc…
I do think Iowa hangs around and stay with in striking distance, but Wisconsin is able to maintain a comfortable lead in the second half. The final score ends up close after Iowa mounts a fourth quarter run (like against Maryland), but ultimately they fall short.
Final Score: Wisconsin 31, Iowa 27