Five Burning Questions: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Wisconsin Badgers
As the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers kick off their final push in Big Ten Conference play this weekend, BadgerBlitz.com presents five burning questions before they face the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes inside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
1. What will these final four regular season games hold?
Wisconsin enters its final third of the regular season with a 6-2 record, 3-2 within the Big Ten. If one were to foresee this in August, I would have likely told you this would have been my likely prediction. However, after jumping up to No. 6 in the AP poll and outside chatter of potential College Football Playoff contention building, the Badgers dropped a stunner of an upset at Illinois, then got ran out of the Horseshoe in a 38-7 loss to the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Big Ten West is still in play, though UW needs to win out and receive help from at least one conference team this month to hand a loss to No. 13 and currently undefeated Minnesota. The road to Indianapolis and a division championship will not be smooth sailing in all likelihood. Will this team group together and put together a run?
2. Will Jonathan Taylor get above 100 yards against Iowa?
Against Ohio State, the offense could not get the 2018 Doak Walker Award winner started -- as he ran for just 53 yards on 20 carries. The Buckeyes stuffed the Badgers' run game to a mere 2.4 yards per carry two Saturdays ago, and against the Hawkeyes, it may not be easier sledding for offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph and his unit.
Through eight games Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has surrendered just 87.8 yards per game on the ground, which is good for eighth in the FBS in terms of fewest yards allowed. Taylor -- who enters the game fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game (126.1) -- has not gone over the century mark in two of the last three games. Will the Badgers find success in the run game this weekend?
3. Can the Badgers offensive line contain the defensive front from the Hawkeyes in both areas of the game?
Four of the top five Hawkeyes that lead the team in tackles for loss come from the defensive line: Chauncey Goulston (7.5), Daviyon Nixon (5.5), A.J. Epenesa (3.5) and Cedrick Lattimore (3.0).
Those four also comprise 10 of Iowa's 16 sacks this season through eight games. Epenesa was the big name pass rusher coming into the season and leads the team in that category, though he has recorded just 3.5.
"I think they do a good job of scheming guys, of scheming teams, and they're smart," center Tyler Biadasz said on Monday. "Like I said before, they're smart, and that's to their advantage. We just have to focus on what can we do to get ahead of that and be prepared for that."
4. Will Wisconsin continue its precedent of getting to opposing quarterbacks against Iowa?
The defense, led by coordinator Jim Leonhard, currently ranks fourth in the nation with 32 sacks through eight games -- an average of four per contest. Inside linebacker Chris Orr and outside linebacker Zack Baun lead the way, as the redshirt seniors have registered nine and 7.5, respectively. The former ranks sixth in the nation in sacks per game (1.13) while the former ranks 13th (.94).
They will have to contend with an Iowa offense that has only given up 18 sacks on the season, and eight of those came on the road at Michigan in a 10-3 loss on Oct. 5.
5. Just how many points will be scored in this game?
We already knew this would be a physical contest between two programs, but Saturday's game will pit a couple of teams which, for the most part, have locked down opposing offenses in terms of points.
Iowa and Wisconsin rank third and tied for fourth, respectively, in the nation in scoring defense (10.1 and 11.4). The most points the Hawkeyes have given up has been 20 against the Boilermakers. Against the Wolverines and Nittany Lions, they held those ranked programs to a combined 27.
For that matter, four Big Ten teams rank in the top four in the FBS in that respective category (Georgia is tied with UW for fourth).
On the offensive side of the ball, despite scoring just seven points against Ohio State, Wisconsin comes in averaging 35.6 points per game. That's over 10 points more than Iowa, who enters this weekend averaging about 24.4.