The Revenge Factor – From 1977 to 1996, Wisconsin could never beat Iowa. Hayden Fry was the head coach of the Hawks from 1979 to 1998, and although he was respectful and sportsmanlike for the most part toward the Badgers and their fans, he did not mind bringing up and talking about the long Iowa streak against the Badgers and the longer streak against Northwestern. Whether Hayden brought it up or not, no border rival takes losing to another very well, especially when a long streak builds. The success of the Wisconsin program helped to heighten the tension in the streak as the Wisconsin fan base grew after winning the Rose Bowl in 1993.
Although Badger Head Coach Alvarez had beaten every other Big Ten team and had the Wisconsin program in one of the most glorious runs in school history, he was not able to beat his former boss and the Hawks until 1997. In 1995 and 1996 the two teams were about even in personnel, but in both games Iowa played one of their best games of the season and handily won. The year Barry stopped the streak (1997) was a season that Iowa definitely had the better roster.
Wisconsin has been the better program over the last few years. The Badgers won the Big Ten in 1998 and 1999 and have beaten Iowa five straight times. As a result, unlike the mid-1990s, Iowa is the team that is looking for revenge. In 2000, an undermanned Iowa team outplayed Wisconsin the entire game, yet lost 13-7. What bothered most around the Iowa program is that a potential TD pass to Kevin Kasper in the front left corner of the end zone to the open side of him was broken up only because Wisconsin’s Jamar Fletcher grabbed his right arm long before the pass got there. However, the referee in position did not make the call. Iowa still had many other chances to win the game, but the obvious missed call is still fresh in the minds of many players and fans.
Most Iowa fans and players have distinct memories of frustration in recent Badger meetings. However, Coach Ferentz must also have an additional sense of motivation to beat the Badgers beyond just seeing them as another hurdle to be cleared in a run to win the Big Ten. Wisconsin manhandled his first Iowa team in 1999, 41-3. In that game Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne became the NCAA all-time leading rusher. Ferentz also has to be motivated by the fact that he is 0-8 against other former assistants of the Iowa staff from the 1980s (0-1 against Bill Snyder of KSU, 0-3 against Alvarez, 0-4 against Dan McCarney of ISU). Iowa was not able to stop their losing streak this year against ISU, but the Hawks did stop a seven-game skid to Michigan by winning one of the most meaningful victories in years. If they can stop the streak against the Badgers, they may also end the streak of years without a Big Ten title.
Punish the Wisconsin Offense – The Badgers (6-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten) have a good defense that might not be as talented as others around the country, but it is tough and confident. On paper, the defense seems pretty mediocre in the Big Ten as they rank fifth in scoring defense (20.6 points per game), sixth in pass defense (227.8 yards per game), seventh in run defense (144.2 yards per game), and eighth in total defense (372 yards per game). However, the Badgers have forced 22 turnovers and the Wisconsin Offense has only turned it over seven times. DB Ryan Aiello played very well last week against Michigan State, and DB Jim Leonard and DB B.J. Tucker are first and second in the league in interceptions
Iowa (8-1 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) is going to be tested by the Badger Defense, but the key to the game, besides the turnover battle, might be decided between the Iowa front seven and the Wisconsin OL. Both teams love to play physical football, and Saturday could be a test to see who is stronger and tougher. Wisconsin runs the ball well as has usually been the case in the Alvarez regime (183.0 yards per game), but Iowa is statistically the second best defense in the country against the run (62.3 yards per game). However, although Purdue is a statistically better running team than Wisconsin, Iowa has yet to play a running team this year. Wisconsin is a very good running team, and although Badger RB Anthony Davis is small, he runs very well between the tackles and has almost eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second straight year.
Badger QB Brooks Bollinger is also a good running threat, but the Hawks are very capable of shutting down the Badger ground game. Wisconsin is not as balanced compared to last season on offense without injured star WR Lee Evans, so if the Hawks make the Badgers a one-dimensional passing team, their offense may struggle. The Badgers do have talented young wide receivers, but have no one to replace Evans or a tight end like Iowa’s Dallas Clark. Bollinger does a great job of protecting the football, but, at times, the Badger passing game suffers as he pulls the ball down under pressure and does not look for receivers. As a result, Wisconsin has been sacked 35 times and is clearly last in the league statistics in protecting the passer. Iowa is first in the Big Ten in both protecting their own passer and in sacking opposing QBs. Iowa QBs have been sacked only eight times this year while the defense has compiled 28 sacks.
What has to be disturbing to the Wisconsin coaches is how the Iowa Defense stops the run and sacks the quarterback. Unlike other teams that put eight or nine defenders in the box to gang up on opposing running attacks, Iowa has been great in stopping the run even though they have only had seven in the box most of the time. If Wisconsin goes with power formations, Iowa may bring another man, but that man may be SS Bob Sanders. Not only is Sanders one of the hardest secondary hitters in America, but he thrived making plays near the line of scrimmage against the Badgers in 2000.
The other troubling aspect for the Wisconsin offensive coaches is that the Iowa pass rush has registered twelve sacks over the last two weeks without many blitzes or dogs. Indiana has given up quite a few sacks this season, but Michigan had protected their quarterbacks very well before Iowa registered six sacks last week. Senior DT Colin Cole has been great against both the run and pass all season (twelve tackles for loss, six sacks), but the big difference in the last three games has been from the right defensive end position. Junior DE Howard Hodges (eight tackles for loss, six sacks) and sophomore DE Matt Roth (seven tackles for loss, six sacks) may share time at that position, but both of them are also among the Big Ten leaders in sacks. Roth and Sanders bring a special kind of intensity to play physical that seems to spread to the entire defense. Roth had a monster game against Michigan State a few weeks ago, and the competition at the position has brought out the best in Hodges, as he played great against Michigan last week. Hodges is starting to show the promise that the Iowa coaching staff has seen in him. Between those two, Cole, DT Jared Clauss, and DE Jonathan Babineaux, the Iowa DL might be playing as well as any DL in the Midwest right now. That is kind of scary for opposing teams since there is no doubt that the Iowa OL is one of the best in the country through the first nine games.
Wear down Wisconsin – The Badgers are smaller and more athletic up front on defense compared to some Badger fronts of past seasons. Nothing is wrong with that unless they are forced to be on the field a long time. If the Hawkeye Defense shuts down the Badger running game, the Badger Defense may be forced to play a lot of minutes whether they are performing well or not. RB Jermelle Lewis (65 carries for 446 yards, six TDs) and RB Fred Russell (177 carries for 925 yards, eight TDs) may share time this week at the tailback position, and if each can protect the ball, it may benefit the Hawks since each has a different style. Russell has shown all season that he can hit the hole very quickly if one is there, and is good at cutbacks and exposing defenses that are not disciplined. Lewis does not always run to the right hole and still needs to get better at the little things, but he can break tackles, runs north and south very well, and shows good speed in the open field.
C Bruce Nelson had a very good game last season against the Badgers and RB Ladell Betts and the Iowa running attack had a good day, but Iowa did not convert enough third down situations in the 34-28 loss. The Hawks may have been a little hung over last season in Madison from the 32-26 home loss to Michigan the previous week, but nevertheless, Coach Alvarez and the Badgers won the game.
This season, the situation seems much different. Iowa did not win a close game last year until the bowl game against Texas Tech, but this season they have pulled out close wins against Penn State and Purdue in the final seconds of the game. The Hawks not only have a great kicker this year with the return of Nate Kaeding, but the punt game has improved. While the team struggled to convert third downs in Madison last year, the game is in Iowa City this year and QB Brad Banks (119-201 for 1,797 yards and 18 TDs) has done a great job almost all season of protecting the ball and making plays when the team needs them. Brooks Bollinger has played well against Iowa in the past, but playing for a Big Ten title, getting Coach Ferentz a win against one of his former coworkers, and ending the losing streak to Wisconsin should all be enough for the Hawks to come out and play well.