Iowa vs Wisconsin: What We're Watching For

By RossWB on November 12, 2022 at 7:00 am
go hawks go
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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WHO: Wisconsin (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten)
WHEN: 2:35 PM CT (Saturday, November 12)
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
TV: FS1
ANNOUNCERS: Dan Hellie and Petros Papadakis
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 121 or 203 (app 966)
STREAM: FoxSports.com
MOBILE: Fox Sports app 
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: temps in the 40s, clear
LINE: EVEN (Total: 35.0)

NOTE: Don't forget to follow all the action during the game and chat with your fellow Iowa fans in the Go Iowa Awesome discord! (More info here.)

Iowa and Wisconsin have been mirror image programs in many ways for several years, but they've taken the doppelganger bit to another level this season. Both teams entered the year with Big Ten title aspirations and were picked to finish 1-2 in the West; instead they're each 5-4 overall and 3-3 in league play. They've even taken similar paths to get to that point -- both suffered disappointing early season home losses in non-conference games (Iowa State for Iowa, Washington State for Wisconsin), both were on the wrong end of some blowouts early in Big Ten play (Ohio State and Illinois for Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State for Iowa), and both have rebounded to play their best football in recent weeks (each team enters on a two-game winning streak).

Despite their similarities, though, Wisconsin has usually had the upper hand in these meetings. Kirk Ferentz won four in a row over Wisconsin from 2002 to 2005 and six of eight between 2002 and 2009, but Wisconsin has taken eight of ten matchups since then, including five of the last six. Iowa's only win since 2015 came in the COVID year of 2020. In fact, Iowa hasn't prevailed over Wisconsin in Iowa City with a full contingent of Iowa fans since 2008. That's been a minute. (Iowa did beat Wisconsin in Iowa City in 2020, but, again, that was the COVID year, when Big Ten games were played in all-but-empty stadiums.) 

It's rare that you can boil a game down to a single stat, but Iowa-Wisconsin comes pretty close: it's all about running the dang ball. Since 1999, the team that wins the rushing battle has won the game in 19 out of 21 meetings. (The exceptions: Iowa in 2009, when they rode four Wisconsin turnovers to a victory, and Wisconsin in 2001, when they "lost" the running yards battle by a single yard, 173-172.) That's a pretty strong track record for a single stat. That stat should favor Wisconsin, traditionally one of the very best running teams in the nation, but they haven't been at their usual level this season -- they're just 42nd nationally in rushing yards, averaging 183 yards per game (their average of 4.9 yards per carry ranks 33rd nationally). Of course, that's still far better than Iowa -- 119th nationally at 104 yards per game (Iowa's 3.2 yards per carry average ranks 117th). Iowa's rush offense is coming off its best games of the season, though: 178 yards and 2 TD (5 YPC) against Northwestern and 184 yards and 1 TD (5.3 YPC) against Purdue. Wisconsin's run game is also coming off its best game of the season: 278 yards and 2 TD (6 YPC) against Maryland. 

Iowa does boast the 8th best run defense in the nation (93 YPG), the 4th best run-per-carry average (2.6 YPC), and is tied for the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (3). Formidable numbers from a defense that's been absolute nails pretty much all season. Wisconsin typically ranks among the nation's best in defensive stats as well, but their defense has been good-not-great for most of this season: the Badgers rank 24th in scoring defense (20.6 PPG), 23rd in total defense (325.8 YPG), and 21st in run defense (113.8 YPG). Can Iowa exploit those cracks in Wisconsin's defensive armor? We'll have a better idea of how much of Iowa's offensive improvement over the past few weeks can be credited to playing weaker defenses and how much can be attributed to genuine offensive improvement by Iowa after seeing how they fare against the Badgers. 

One interesting wrinkle to the Iowa offense-vs-Wisconsin defense discussion: the Badger pass defense has been more pedestrian than normal this season. It ranks just 40th nationally (212 YPG) and the 7.0 yards allowed per attempt ranks just 55th nationally. One thing the Badger secondary has been good at is forcing turnovers -- while they've allowed 12 touchdown passes, they've also forced 15 interceptions, 2nd most in the nation. Petras been playing clean football of late -- 3 TD, 0 INT, 64% completion -- but turnovers can sometimes snowball with him (4 INT vs Purdue last year, 3 INT vs Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, 2 INT vs Ohio State this season) and he did have one of the worst games of his career against Wisconsin last season (9/19, 93 yards, 1 fumble lost). He's also at his worst under pressure and Wisconsin's 3-4 defense brings pressure from weird angles. If Iowa's offensive line can keep the pocket clean, Petras may be able to connect on a few medium- and long-range passes against Wisconsin's softer-than-usual secondary. But if he's consistently under pressure, the odds of him making poor decisions and adding to Wisconsin's interception tally go up significantly. 

PREDICTION 

The winner of this game will maintain slim hopes of winning the Big Ten West (although just how slim those hopes are will be determined by the Illinois-Purdue game taking place prior to this one); the loser could be headed to a 6-6 (or worse) season. No pressure! Although pressure is exactly what worries me about this game -- not any outside pressure about potential Big Ten West titles or trips to the Big Ten Championship Game, but the literal pressure brought on the Iowa offense by the Wisconsin defense. Aside from 2020, that 3-4 defensive look has consistently baffled Iowa's offensive lines, created a lot of sacks, hits, QB hurries, and turnovers, and also bottled up Iowa's running game pretty effectively. Can an Iowa OL that's still pretty raw handle the weirdness Wisconsin is sure to use to attack them? I'm going to cautiously say "yes." I think the atmosphere inside Kinnick Stadium will be pretty electric, especially as it gets darker out in the second half, and I think a fired-up Iowa defense will make some big plays. And I think Kaleb Johnson will outplay Braelon Allen -- though not by much. 

IOWA 20, WISCONSIN 14

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