Iowa football is seeking their first win over the Wisconsin Badgers since 2015. Here are three things to watch and a prediction.
There hasn’t been much to celebrate recently for Iowa football when facing the Wisconsin Badgers. The Hawkeyes are winless in four straight and have lost eight of their last nine to the Badgers. 2020 has been a weird year all around, though, so who says Iowa can’t pull off a statement win on Saturday?
The No. 16 Hawkeyes (5-2), winners of five straight overall, boast one of the best defenses in all of college football this season. The same can be said for Wisconsin (2-2), though the Badgers are on a two-game losing streak.
What an we expect from both teams? Three things to watch and a prediction outlined below:
1. Which quarterback is going to step up?
This game could come down to which quarterback makes the most plays or has the fewest mistakes. Both starting quarterbacks are young, inexperienced and turnover prone.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has just four starts under his belt. The redshirt freshman was lights out in the Badgers’ season-opener against Illinois, tossing five touchdowns and completing 95 percent of his passes (school record).
Since that record-breaking performance, Mertz has come back down to earth. He’s thrown just four touchdowns over his last three games and has four interceptions in his last two games. He’s been responsible for six total turnovers.
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has been just as shaky. Petras, making his eighth career start on Saturday, had struggled all season until last week against Illinois when he threw for a career-best three touchdowns. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Against two championship-caliber defenses, which quarterback will fold under pressure?
2. Iowa must neutralize Wisconsin’s linebackers
The Hawkeyes’ strength on offense is their running game, led by their offensive line. Wisconsin’s strongest positional group on defense is their linebacking corps. Junior Jack Sanborn leads the team in tackles (29) and is graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 13 overall linebacker. Sophomore Leo Chenal is second in tackles (16) and ranks as PFF’s No. 18 overall linebacker. As a unit, Wisconsin allows just 2.95 yards per carry.
Iowa must find a way to neutralize Wisconsin’s playmaking duo. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz should utilize plenty of pre-snap motion on jet sweeps in order to get the Badgers’ linebackers peeking a little too early in the backfield.
The use of jet motion gives the illusion of a potential running play to a wide receiver, giving the defense another player to worry about even if that player doesn’t receive the ball. Sending a player across the formation inevitably distracts defenders from what’s actually happening in front of them. Several coaches call this the “illusion of complexity”.
3. First team to 20 points wins
Both defenses have been lights out this season. Each team ranks in the top-15 in several defensive categories. Iowa allows just 17.3 points per game (14th in FBS), while Wisconsin allows 12.3 per game (second). The Hawkeyes haven’t allowed more than 24 points in 21 straight games. Needless to say, points will be at a premium in this contest. Expect a boring game with low output from both offenses. It’s likely that 20 points will be enough to win. The over/under for the game is set at 41 points as of Friday evening.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17
The Hawkeyes are a 2-point underdog after opening as a 2.5-point favorite. Iowa will be at home in Kinnick Stadium, but having no fans presents a significant advantage for Wisconsin. Still, how are the Hawkeyes underdogs all of a sudden against a .500 ball club? There’s a reason the Hawks have won five in a row. Iowa wins by a field goal.