GAME NOTES: The 14th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers will try to continue their quest
for a spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game when they challenge the
Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday.
Currently leading the league’s West Division, Wisconsin has recovered nicely
from a 20-14 loss to Northwestern in early October. The Badgers have won five
straight games since, including a 59-24 rout of division rival Nebraska last
weekend. They are now 8-2 overall and 5-1 in conference, which puts them a
game ahead of three teams tied for second place in the division.
One of those teams is Iowa, with the others being Minnesota and Nebraska. The
Hawkeyes have been uneven recently, with a 2-2 split of their last four games.
They bounced back from a 51-14 letdown against Minnesota with a 30-14 triumph
against Illinois last weekend, improving them to 7-3 overall. They will finish
off the regular season next weekend against Nebraska.
Wisconsin has a slim lead in the all-time series with Iowa, 43-42-2. The
Badgers have won the last two meetings, including a 28-9 triumph last season,
which was the eighth matchup since the introduction of the Heartland Trophy to
When discussing Wisconsin’s offense there is only one player that really needs
to be mentioned. That is running back Melvin Gordon, of course. Gordon has
been easily the best running back in the country this season, leading the way
in rushing yards (1,909) and touchdowns (23), while averaging 8.6 yards per
carry. Gordon was unreal in the Badgers’ win over Nebraska, as he piled up a
FBS-record 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries.
“This game meant a lot. Forget about the statistics. I knew if we lost this
game, it would be tough for us to get in the Big Ten championship,” Gordon
said. “It was pretty much the end of the road for us. These last few games are
Gordon has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of 10 games this season, with
four 200-yard efforts to his credit.
Despite their reliance on just one player, the Badgers have done just fine for
themselves on offense. They rank third in the Big Ten in both average yards
per game (493.2) and scoring offense (39 ppg).
Joel Stave only threw the ball 11 times against Nebraska, completing seven
passes for only 46 yards and a touchdown. Stave hasn’t been asked to carry the
offense, with only 688 yards and six touchdowns on 54.8 percent passing,
although Tanner McEvoy was the starter at the beginning of the season.
Alex Erickson (37 receptions, 480 yards, three TDs) and Sam Arneson (20
receptions, 276 yards, four TDs) are the only players on the roster with 20 or
Offense alone, even one as potent as Wisconsin’s Gordon-based attack, cannot
win games. The Badgers are fortunate enough to be just fine defensively as
well. In fact, they are the top defensive team in the country in terms of
yards allowed (244 ypg).
Michael Caputo (70 tackles, 4.5 TFL) anchors the squad as the leading tackler,
but Derek Landisch (59 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks) and Vine Biegel (14.0
TFL, 6.5 sacks) have been even more devastating to opposing offenses.
Iowa has not been as productive on offense this season, but that didn’t appear
to be the case against Illinois. The Hawkeyes finished with 587 yards,
including a 304-yard effort on the ground.
“It was good to see. It seemed like we were blocking pretty well and the guys
ran hard,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of his team’s rushing prowess.
Even after the showing against Illinois, Iowa still ranks just sixth in the
Big Ten in total offense (399.6 ypg), while scoring 28.1 points per game.
Mark Weisman has been the most productive offensive threat for the Hawkeyes,
with 676 yards and 14 touchdowns on 170 carries. He was at the forefront of
the rushing binge by the Hawkeyes last weekend, as he totaled 134 yards on 23
attempts, although he failed to get into the end zone. Jordan Canzeri (287
yards) finished with 68 yards in the win as well.
Jake Rudock played well under center in the victory, throwing for 210 yards
and two touchdowns, while adding 39 yards and a score on the ground. Rudock
and C.J. Beathard, who completed three passes against Illinois, have each
gotten time at quarterback this season. Rudock has gotten the most work, with
1,863 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions on 63.9 percent passing.
Beathard has 500 yards and three touchdowns on 39-of-69 passing.
Tight end Jake Duzey (30 receptions, 292 yards, two TDs) had his best game of
the season against Illinois, finishing with 110 yards on three receptions.
Kevonte Martin-Manley (39 receptions, 398 yards, TD) and Tevaun Smith (33
receptions, 410 yards, two TDs) are still the leading receiving options,
Iowa is also closer to the middle of the Big Ten than the top in terms of
defensive success, as the unit rank sixth in both total defense (324.6 ypg)
and scoring defense (22.5 ppg).
With a raucous home crowd behind it, Iowa could very well knock off Wisconsin.
However, that would require the Hawkeyes to stop Gordon, which has been a
nearly impossible task this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 32, Iowa 21