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October 31, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
The Badgers are heading down to Iowa City to renew their rivalry with the Iowa Hawkeyes this weekend, so I asked HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert a few questions about Wisconsin's long-lost foe. Tom was kind enough to give some great insight, so thanks again to him for taking time out of his busy schedule for us.
Could you give me a brief run-down of how Iowa's season has shaken out so far? Are the Hawkeyes about where you expected them to be at this point?
Tom Kakert: I guess you would probably get about a thousand different opinions on Iowa's season from the fans. I think they are about where I expected them to be at this point in the year. Frankly the most difficult portion of the schedule was after their bye week and I still think that's the case. Prior to the season, I thought they could get to six wins and now they are one win away from achieving that outcome.
Last year was just a slow death march to the end of a 4-8 season that concluded with six straight losses. It was an ugly year on both sides of the ball. The offense couldn't move the ball and in the later stages of the season, the defense couldn't stop anyone. While this season hasn't been a wild change in terms of results, Iowa is certainly a better football team. The offense, while still not great, is much more enjoyable to watch. The defense is better as well.
It's been a long time since the Badgers and the Hawkeyes last played each other. Are there any significant changes to the team since 2010 that Badgers fans should know about?
TK: It has been a long time since the Hawkeyes and the Badgers have met on the football field. If you ask me, any break in this series is too long. I've really enjoyed this series since I started covering the team in the early 2000's and perhaps part of that is because the teams were mirror images of each other and Wisconsin had so many Iowa ties in their program.
While the Badgers have certainly had a very significant change at the top of the program, Iowa has had a pretty major overhaul as well. Iowa has a new offensive and defensive coordinator and that has led to some philosophical changes. Former Texas OC Greg Davis now runs the offense. He's kept the running game pretty much as is, but the passing game has changed and it took a year for it to actually work. Phil Parker took over the defense from his long time mentor Norm Parker. Phil is a bit more aggressive in his schemes and has used the blitz more this year than any time combined under Norm and Iowa is playing more man coverage than they have in the past.
How have the Hawkeyes performed offensively this season? What do they try to do when they have the ball, and how has Jake Rudock performed in his first year as the starter?
TK: It's been a heck of a lot better than last year, that's for sure. Last season other than a short burst of excitement when Mark Weisman came on to the scene about three games in, Iowa's offense was limited at best. The short passing game always seemed to leave the Hawkeyes short of the sticks on third down and it wasn't good.
Jake Rudock came into the season having not take a snap under center at the college level and frankly he's been much better than I expected. He's still more of a game manager, but he is far more mobile than I thought he would be and Rudock isn't afraid to tuck it and run with the football. He's completing 61% of his throws and has 12 touchdown passes this season. Iowa has converted 49% of their third downs, which is up significantly from last year.
Offensively, Iowa is going to keep it pretty simple and they are going to try and stay balanced in their approach. You will likely see an equal number of rushing and passing plays on Saturday with a lot of bodies rotating in and out at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Speaking of tight ends, they play a big role in the Iowa offense. Keep an eye on C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey, who has jumped up the depth chart the past two weeks.
I remember there was a lot of muttering about just how hot or cold Kirk Ferentz's seat is in Iowa City. Had his job gotten more secure since the season started? And in a more abstract sense, do you think he's the right coach to bring Iowa back to a higher level of competitiveness in the Big Ten?
TK: This is one of those questions that you could ask any Iowa fan and you would probably get a different variation on the answer from every one of them. I don't think his seat was ever going to get hot simple because his contract and the buyout are impossible for Iowa to pay out. Ferentz is making nearly four million a year and he has a contract that runs until 2020. If Iowa were to fire him for simply not winning enough, they have to pay out ? of what he is owed. Iowa doesn't have that kind of money.
The thing that Iowa fans should realize is that he's brought Iowa back from the depths a couple of times. When he was hired back in the late 90's, the program was going downhill and he paid for it the first few years. Then something started to click and they ran off three straight years of ten win seasons and re-build #1 was completed. The next low wasn't as bad and Iowa rebounded to go to the Orange Bowl in 2009. Iowa hasn't been the same since that point, but they appear to be making a strides this year after a dismal 2012 season.
What's your prediction for this week's game? Does Iowa get the Heartland Trophy back after three years, or is the big brass bull back in Madison this time next week?
TK: This is a hard one for me to pick. Before the season I predicted an Iowa win this weekend. I think part of it was believing that the Badgers wouldn't experience as smooth of a transition as they appear to have made. Having said that, Iowa is also a surprise because they are better than last year. I expect a close game and I also think it will be low scoring. I hate making a homer type pick, but I've felt since the beginning of the year that Iowa was going to get the Badgers. It won't be pretty and it really feels like a while knuckle ride for the Hawkeyes. I think Iowa will win, but this will end up being a very close game.
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