IOWA CITY, Iowa — Like two lumberjacks competing in a game of bloody knuckles, Iowa and Wisconsin are equally powerful, physical and competitive. The question is, which team unwillingly relents first?
We will have our answer sometime in the fourth quarter Saturday from Camp Randall Stadium when No. 8 Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) seeks to claim the Big Ten West Division crown against border rival No. 20 Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) at 3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT on ABC. The teams play for the Heartland Trophy, which the Badgers currently possess after a 17-9 victory last fall.
The road team has won the last six games in the series, and Wisconsin holds a 45-43-2 series edge. The winner of this game has claimed the Big Ten West title and a spot in the league championship game in each of the last three seasons.
The teams play on Nov. 11, the 99 th anniversary of the World War I armistice at the old Civil War training ground. Here are three keys plus predictions for the latest installment of Badgers-Hawkeyes.
Race to 100-plus
One number seems to have stared at Iowa very closely the last two-plus seasons, and that’s 100. When the Hawkeyes rush for at least 100 yards, they are 26-1. When they don’t, they’re 0-9.
That’s especially true when Iowa plays Wisconsin. Last year, Iowa rushed for 83 yards and gave up 167 in a 17-9 loss. In 2015, Iowa ran for 144 yards in a 10-6 victory. The Badgers rushed for only 86 yards.
Whichever team claims the upper hand running the football usually wins the game. In the last five meetings and 12 of the last 13 (from 2002 through 2016), the team that has rushed for the most yards has picked up the victory. The one outlier was 2009 when Wisconsin outrushed Iowa 87-65 but the Hawkeyes pulled off a 20-10 victory.
Wisconsin is led by the Big Ten’s most proficient running back in freshman Jonathan Taylor, who averages 152 yards a game. That’s 50.4 yards per game more than any other Big Ten running back. Akrum Wadley leads the Hawkeyes at 84.6 rushing yards per game. Plus, the Badgers lead the nation in time of possession at 35 minutes, 28 seconds.
Avoid getting bogged down
Field position will play a role in this game as always, but Iowa’s offensive coaching staff needs to avoid going too conservative simply because it’s comfortable and low-risk.
The last two games Iowa has attacked defenses like a pro-style NFL offense rather than its traditional model under Kirk Ferentz. Against Minnesota, that meant starting the game with a pass out of a three-tight end set and scoring on a run out of a three-receiver grouping. Last week against Ohio State, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz mixed the play calls brilliantly. The Hawkeyes passed on 5 of 8 first-down opportunities in the first quarter, which kept the Buckeyes off balance.
On first down, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completes 63.4 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception. When running the football on first down, Iowa averages just 3.43 yards per carry. It’s obvious the best way for Iowa’s offense to work against Wisconsin’s high-motor defenders — or any opponent — is to go against tendency.
Lock down the perimeter
Top Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus is out for the rest of the season and fellow wideout Jazz Peavy remains sidelined for the fifth straight game. The Badgers’ projected starters at wide receiver are sophomore A.J. Taylor and freshman Danny Davis, who have combined for 22 catches, 401 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Cephus had 30 catches for 501 yards and 6 scores.
With cornerbacks Joshua Jackson and Manny Rugamba, Iowa has the advantage in this head-to-head matchup. If the Hawkeyes can lock up and frustrate Wisconsin’s receivers and force the Badgers to become one-dimensional, Iowa can devote more attention to Taylor, the running game and tight end Troy Fumagalli.
SCOTT DOCHTERMAN — Iowa 16-13
BOBBY LA GESSE — Wisconsin 17-13
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