Hit on the set up plays
Greg Davis always works in a new wrinkle every week where the offense installs a package of similar plays that have one that is designed to be a home run. Sometimes it will span across a couple games, where they’ll run the set up play the week before, then try to capitalize the next week. You’ll see Iowa run a toss sweep a few times, then run a play action pass off of it. Or run a tunnel screen, then fake it and go deep. It is how Davis looks to hit those explosive plays. (Iowa added some run looks out of shotgun last week. Wadley’s long touchdown run and an early pass to Kittle came out of run looks from shotgun. So maybe look for Davis to build on that this week. Or scrap it completely, because, ya know, why keep doing something that works.)
Sometimes, though, the set-up plays are ineffective. After a team sees the base play once, it is too predictable that the next time will be a fake and a deep pass. If Iowa is going to score on this really good Wisconsin defense, though, then they need to hit on the plays that they’ve set up to be the game changers. I think back to the Big Ten Championship Game where Iowa really struggled to move the ball consistently against Michigan State’s defense. But they hit big when they finally used play action and were in position to win the game.
And while I don’t think we see Desmond King on offense, if they are going to try it out, this would be the week to do so, even if it's more to set up a big play. Let him run an end around just once, then use the same motion to set up play action, or even just a run up the middle.
Speaking of Desmond King, Iowa could really use another six points from him this weekend. Alex Hornibrook has been inconsistent this year and at times prone to throwing interceptions. He’s thrown more picks than touchdowns and has made mistakes when pressured. He isn’t really a run threat, so we might see Iowa use more Raider package looks this week. But Wisconsin also doesn’t have a clear number one receiver that’s much better than the others (though Jazz Peavy might be that guy) and spreads the ball around pretty well, so I don’t think we see King move around the field as much.
King probably won’t have much of a shot on kick returns as the Badgers have sent two-thirds of kickoffs for touchbacks and only allowed an average return of 14 yards on the other third of kickoff returns. There may be some opportunities for King in punt returns, though. Wisconsin is 13th in the Big Ten in net punting and are giving up 11 yards per return. King setting up the offense with good field position hasn’t always proved to be enough this year, and with the Wisconsin defense it might not be enough tomorrow, either. So if King can go ahead and get the points himself, that’d be a big win.
Continue to improve against the run
Wisconsin has not looked like Wisconsin running the ball this year. They are 8th in the conference in rushing yards per game, which isn’t bad, but isn’t what you expect from the Badgers. Against Ohio State, though, they started to get something going in the first half. Though Ohio State adjusted and pretty much shut down Wisconsin’s offense for most of the second half, this is not the time we want them to finally get the ground game figured out.
Iowa’s defense has had similar issues against the run. What has usually been a strength under Kirk Ferentz has been rather shaky this year. But there are signs of life. The past two weeks the run defense has looked improved as the line is holding ground and the young safeties are making fewer mistakes. These improvements need to continue.
All the small things
Against a Top 10 team, sometimes you need a little luck -- something like a fumbled snap when a team looks poised to score a go-ahead touchdown. Iowa could use the ball bouncing its way. But more importantly, it needs to make sure the small things don’t go against them. They can’t afford to have a holding or chop block call on a touchdown run. Or a false start on second down. Or a punt that’s a little too low with not enough hang time. Or a missed tackle when going in for the kill shot. Those sort of things need to be clean tomorrow for Iowa to have a chance to win.
Iowa has been uncharacteristically undisciplined at times this year. They have missed on big plays by just one little thing going wrong. Hopefully Purdue was just what the doctor ordered for Iowa and gave them enough momentum in the right direction.
Iowa just doesn’t have the playmakers on offense to compete with Wisconsin’s stout defense and will likely have a lot of drives that don’t go anywhere. I think they’ll put together a drive or two and maybe get really good field position from a special teams play or a turnover that the offense can also convert into some points, but it won’t be enough. Wisconsin will have enough of a rushing attack and get a few big plays through the air that will keep the game just out of reach.
Final Score: Wisconsin 21, Iowa 13