High-stakes slugfest: No. 25 Iowa visits No. 6 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — A chill is in the air at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa is coming to town, fresh off a stunning rout of Ohio State and eager to hand Wisconsin its first loss of the season.
Get ready for a good ‘ol fashioned, Big Ten slugfest when the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes visit the sixth-ranked Badgers on Saturday.
“Some guys on defense are talking about ‘We get to play real football,’ which is exciting,” Wisconsin linebacker Ryan Connelly said. “We get to face a fullback, stuff like that.”
No doubt, both teams can light up the scoreboard. Iowa (6-3, 3-3, No. 20 CFP) is on a roll after beating the Buckeyes 55-24 last week. Star freshman Jonathan Taylor is a threat to run away to the end zone any time he carries the ball for the Badgers (9-0, 6-0, No. 8 CFP).
But in November in the Big Ten, defense always makes a difference. Controlling the line of scrimmage becomes even more crucial.
It always seems to be a black-and-blue affair when the Hawkeyes and Badgers tangle.
“They’re physical. I would say that’s the staple of this game. It’s super physical,” Wisconsin left tackle Michael Deiter said.
And if there’s not enough incentive this weekend, a win for Iowa would spoil the Badgers’ dreams of an undefeated season. The Hawkeyes would prevent Wisconsin from clinching a berth to the Big Ten title game and keep alive their own longshot hopes to win the Big Ten West division.
Don’t count them out, especially given the way they beat Ohio State.
“For us to play good football and be a good team, we’re going to have to play cohesively like that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ll certainly need that to meet the challenge we face at Camp Randall this week.”
Other notes and things to watch ahead of Saturday’s game:
NATE THE GREAT: Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley is playing well, just in time for a trip back to his home state. Stanley, who grew up in Menomonie, Wisconsin, had five touchdown passes against the Buckeyes. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns without an interception in four games against ranked opponents this year. Now he gets to face an opportunistic Wisconsin defense tied for fourth in the country with 14 interceptions.
Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said he has been impressed with the sophomore’s decision-making.
“The biggest thing I’ve said all along is I’ve been most impressed with how he’s handled the bumps,” Ferentz said. When things go wrong, it doesn’t seem to rock his world.”
TAYLOR TIME: The Big Ten’s leading rusher (152.0 yards per game), Taylor will play in the biggest game yet of his first college season. The 5-foot-11 tailback has shown an impressive blend of power, speed and agility for a freshman. Wisconsin has depth when Taylor needs a spell with power back Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek, another emerging freshman. Iowa has the league’s fourth-best scoring defense (18.1 points) and eighth against the run (147.3 yards).
GETTING PICKY: Eight of Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s nine interceptions have come in Big Ten play. The sophomore has shown that he can bounce back from picks, but the Badgers would be better off if they can limit mistakes ball-hawking Iowa. The Hawkeyes defense picked off Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett four times last week.
THAT’S TIGHT: Looking for X-factors in the game? Try tight end, where both teams have productive depth. At Iowa, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have combined for 42 catches, with all but five resulting in a touchdown or first down. Fant has already set a single-season school record with seven touchdown catches. With Wisconsin losing productive receiver Quintez Cephus (right leg) for the year, tight end Troy Fumagalli might become an even more important target for Hornibrook. The athletic senior has 30 catches for 401 yards and three scores. Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston are also capable backups for the Badgers.
SMOOTH ROAD: The visiting team has won the last six meetings in the series, with Iowa having won two straight in Madison. Wisconsin’s last beat Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium in 2007, 17-13.