When: Sat. Oct. 22; noon ET
Where: Iowa City, Iowa; Kinnick Stadium (70,5851)
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 44-43-2
Last Meeting: Iowa Win; 10-6 (2015)
Line: Wisconsin (-3.5)
High-flying offense meet one of the toughest defenses in the Big Ten. It may feel like deja vu as the Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa Hawkeyes clash for the 11th time over the Heartland Trophy and for the 90th time in a series that dates all the way back to 1894.
Let’s just say crazy things can happen when these two teams get together. Last season was certainly no different as both defenses created turnovers and harassed the opposing offenses like crazy. Yet, it all ended in a 10-6 victory for the eventual Big Ten West division champions known as the Iowa Hawkeyes.
It’s safe to say these two teams don’t care much for each other, and outside of the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe there may not be a more important or heated rivalry in the Big Ten West division.
So, strap yourselves up for a likely entertaining and crazy matchup between the last two West division winners.
1 Burning Question: Can Wisconsin Build Off Impressive Rushing Performance Against Ohio State?
Badgers fans have been waiting long and (im)patiently to see a solid and capable running game to return to Camp Randall. It just so happened that the return of a healthy Corey Clement and the hyped nature of the matchup with Ohio State allowed that to happen last weekend.
Clement tied a career high with 164 yards rushing, but was held out of the end zone in the overtime loss to Ohio State. As a team, the Badgers put up 236 yards on the ground against a defense that came in allowing an average of just 96 yards per game.
The 236 yards were also the most by a Badgers team in Big Ten play since putting up 256 yards on Minnesota to end the season last year and the second-most of the 2016 season after an explosion against a really bad Akron defense in Week 2 of the season.
Can the Badgers sustain or build on the level of success it had on the ground against Ohio State in this road test? If Wisconsin wants chances to win games with a still-learning quarterback like Alex Hornibrook, it needs to be a threat on the ground.
Teams can’t pin their ears back and attack the passing game if they are getting gashed on the ground. Let’s see if the Badgers can continue to find a solid running game this week.
2 Key Stats:
— 5. That is the number of wins for both Iowa and Wisconsin since the introduction of the Heartland Trophy to this series. So, that means this is the rubber match, and after an Iowa win in Camp Randall last season, you can bet the Badgers want some revenge at Kinnick. However, that may be easier said than done, as Wisconsin owns just an 18-24-1 record in games played at Kinnick in this series.
— 11. Wisconsin has won 11 of the last 12 trophy games against West division rivals. That one loss? It came last season to the Iowa Hawkeyes of course. So, expect this game to mean a lot to both teams. After all, the Badgers clearly aren’t used to not having a full trophy case at Camp Randall. Luckily for the Badgers, they also own a three-game winning streak at Kinnick Stadium, part of that 11 wins in 12 games streak.
3 Key Players:
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB: It may seem strange to have Biegel on this list given the performances of players like Garret Dooley and Zack Baun while he was out, but Biegel is the leader of the 2016 Badgers defense. Having him back on the field for this game is huge, and you can bet his will and determination will rub off on the rest of the team. Oh, and he happens to be a pretty electric weapon for Justin Wilcox to have on the field. Look for him to be a tell-tale sign of how things go in this game.
Akrum Wadley, Iowa RB: Wisconsin’s defense has been one of the hardest to gain yards on in the Big Ten, especially on the ground. However, they have been susceptible to the big play and that is where Wadley comes in to play. He is third in the Big Ten with 592 yards rushing, but most importantly he is a game-buster. Wadley averages over 7.4 yards per carry on the season and has busted five runs of 20-plus yards to go with 18 of 10 or more yards. He needs to give the Badgers a reason to back off defensively, and busting loose a few times early on would be good.
Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin RG: There wasn’t a single player on the Badgers offensive line that had as bad of a game as Benzschawel did. He made Nick Bosa look like Joey Bosa and he also couldn’t handle Sam Hubbard. The lack of strong play made UW a one-dimensional run game almost exclusively running up the middle or left of the line. Simply put, he has to play better if the Badgers want to continue to open up the playbook and make teams deal with multiple play locations out of the same looks. If UW can’t trust him to block well, it could be another long day for the Badgers offense.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Wisconsin 35-14
Dave: Wisconsin 24-17
Phil H.: Wisconsin 24-20
Philip R-R: Wisconsin 24-21