The Hawkeyes are looking to bounce back from a devastating loss to Purdue two weeks ago. What better way to feel better than with a trophy game? Now they travel to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. A team they’re very familiar with.
“I think they got an idea of what we’re going to do, we got an idea,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The two teams are eerily similar on the field and in the success they have had the last several years. Though head-to-head, it’s been all Wisconsin lately. Under Paul Chryst, the Badgers have beaten the Hawkeyes four of the last six times.
That’s been the case with most teams Wisconsin plays. Since 2015, Chryst’s first year, they’ve been one of the most successful programs in the country. They’ve finished no lower than tied for second in the West division, finished ranked in the AP Top-25 four times and have won five of their six Bowl games. That includes two New Year’s Six wins.
Loss vs Penn State, 16-10
Win vs Eastern Michigan, 34-7
Loss vs No. 12 Notre Dame, 41-13
Loss vs No. 14 Michigan, 38-17
Win at Illinois, 24-0
Win vs Army, 20-14
Win at Purdue, 30-13
*Common opponents in bold
Here’s what to expect at Camp Randall on Saturday morning.
Series Quick Facts
Number of games: 94
First meeting: October 29, 1894; Wisconsin 44-0
Last meeting: December 12, 2020; Iowa 28-7
All-time series: Wisconsin, 48-44
Current win streak: Iowa, 1 (2020)
Longest win streak: Iowa, 10 (1985-1996)
Significant Wisconsin Stats
Rushing Offense: 218.9 yards/game (19th nationally)
Total Defense: 223 yards allowed/game (2nd nationally)
Rushing Defense: 53.3 yards/game (1st nationally)
Passing Offense: 146 yards/game (123rd nationally)
Third Down Conversion Rate: 28.1 percent (127th nationally)
Turnovers Margin: -7 (122nd nationally)
Passing: Graham Mertz (QB), 945 yards, 2 TDs, 7 INT
Rushing: Chez Mellusi (RB), 692 yards, 4 TD
Receiving: Danny Davis III (WR), 18 catches, 241 yards, 0 TDs
Sacks: Leo Chenal (LB), 5
Even through several coaching changes over the last decade, Wisconsin’s identity has remained consistent. This year is no different.
“I have to be kind of fast to the run knowing that they’re pretty much a downhill team,” junior safety Kaevon Merriweather said. “It does make it a little bit more fun, more of a physical game, it’s pretty fun.”
After weeks of playing teams that almost exclusively throw the ball; the Hawkeyes now play one of the top rushing attacks in the country. They run the ball 65 percent of the time and a big part of that is a running back group Ferentz thinks is much improved from last year. The Badgers have two of them. Junior Chez Mellusi is the teams leading rusher with 621 yards.
The other is true freshman Braelon Allen, who’s rushed for 100 yards in all of the last three games and is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. The only comparison coach Ferentz had for that, Tony Dorsett.
“They’re both downhill runners, can definitely put a move on you in space and definitely will try to run you over if they get the chance to,” Merriweather said.
They run behind a big and experienced offensive line. Their two tackles, Tyler Beach and Logan Bruss, who is a 2021 the Outland Trophy watch list; are both seniors and top 300 pounds.
“Their guys are big, strong, and physical,” Ferentz said. “I can’t imagine there’s anybody bigger in the country, man for man, especially on the offensive line.”
There’s not much to speak of in the way of pass-catchers, but they have plenty of experience. Four of their top five receivers are seniors.
Sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz was highly touted coming out of high school, but has struggled a bit this season. He has just two touchdowns to seven interceptions. In the win over Purdue, Mertz only threw eight times, but the pass is still something Iowa is weary of.
“I have to stay locked in on my keys,” Merriweather said. “Understanding what I’m looking at, understanding what I’m reading. Just making sure I’m 100 percent on everything I read. All my pass reads and my run reads are 100 percent each and every play to make sure no one gets behind me.
You’ll hear a lot of the same things about the Badgers’ defense. It starts with the line. It’s a big reason why they’re the top rushing defense in the country, allowing just 53 yards per game. Bad news for a Hawkeye squad that’s been very uneven with its running game this season.
“Those guys are strong, they have a strong front seven,” Tyler Goodson said.
They’re big too. Just like on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive front will likely be the biggest unit on the field.
“Their interior guys are big, their linebackers can play center,” Ferentz said. “Probably bigger than Linderbaum.”
The headliners of that group are the two linebackers, senior Jack Sanborn and junior Leo Chenal. Chenal leads the team in tackles and sacks despite missing the first two games of the season. Sanborn has been the team’s leading tackler the last two seasons and was the MVP of their Duke’s Mayo Bowl win last year.
As a whole, the unit has gained a lot of confidence over the last couple games. They’ve only allowed 27 points over their last three games, including a shutout of Illinois.
The place the Hawkeyes have seen the most growth is in the secondary.
“They’re starting to press a lot more, which means they’re confident in what they can do against us man to man,” Arland Bruce said.