Previewing the Iowa Hawkeyes with Rivals.com's Hawkeye Report
The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers look to retain possession of one of its coveted trophies, and more importantly, stay in the hunt for a Big Ten West division championship when they face the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes (3 p.m. CT, FOX).
Here are significant stats, players to know and key insight from a Q&A with Hawkeye Report's Tom Kakert.
2019 TEAM STATS
*Record: 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten
*Points per game: 24.4
*Opponents points per game: 10.1 (third in the FBS)
*Rushing yards per game: 145.8
*Opponents rushing yards per game: 87.8 (eighth in the FBS)
*Passing yards per game: 246.9
*Opponents' passing yards per game: 178.1
*Third-down conversions: 42.9%
*Opponents' third-down conversions: 33%
*Total turnovers created: 10 (six interceptions, four fumbles recovered)
*Total turnovers given up: 8 (five interceptions, three fumbles lost)
*Sacks allowed: 18
PLAYERS TO WATCH: OFFENSE
*Quarterback Nate Stanley: 60.7 completion percentage, 1,950 yards, 10 touchdowns, five interceptions
*Running back Mekhi Sargent: 443 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, four touchdowns
*Running back Toren Young: 357 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, one touchdown (long of 52)
*Running back Tyler Goodson: 316 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, one touchdown
*Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 30 receptions, 463 yards, 15.4 yards per catch, three touchdowns
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DEFENSE
*Defensive end A.J. Epenesa: 21 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries
*Defensive back Jack Koerner: 43 tackles, four pass breakups
*Linebacker Djimon Colbert: 40 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups
*Defensive back Geno Stone: 39 tackles, one interception, two pass breakups, one forced fumble
*Defensive end Chauncey Golston: 31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, six quarterback hurries
*Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon: 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, five quarterback hurries
*Defensive lineman Cedrick Lattimore: 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries
1. Both programs sit at 3-2 in conference play coming into Saturday's matchup where the loser essentially appears to be eliminated from divisional consideration. What's the vibe of this Iowa team and how it's approaching this crucial Big Ten West showdown, but also one where the Heartland Trophy is on the line?
Really pretty positive from the Iowa players this week. There’s a lot of respect for the Wisconsin program and most of the guys on the Hawkeye roster haven’t experienced a win over the Badgers during their careers.
Lot of talk this week about the game two years ago in Madison. Iowa was coming off the upset of Ohio State and then went to Wisconsin and could only manage 66 yards of offense. Obviously, the Hawkeye players who were part of that team feel like they didn’t give a representative performance on that Saturday and would like to play a much better game this weekend.
There was also a lot of talk about the importance of this game. One of the goals coming into the season was to win the Big Ten West and make it to Indy for the Big Ten title game. Iowa’s only trip to Indianapolis included a win in Madison, so they realize that this game is a must if they are going to have a shot and it would set up a huge showdown the following week with Minnesota in Iowa City.
2. We always ask about injuries. Who's out, who's in, who's iffy, and what's the impact for this weekend's game?
Even with the bye week, Iowa really didn’t get any healthier on a few fronts. Top wide receiver Brandon Smith remains out with an ankle injury. That’s not a surprise given that he was expected to be out for a while, but it’s a significant loss for the Hawkeye offense.
Iowa’s starting tight end, Nate Wieting, will be out again this week due to injury. Wieting isn’t a big passing target, but he’s their best blocking tight end, so he will be missed on that front. One name to watch stepping in to fill his shoes is true freshman Sam LaPorta, who is a threat as a receiver.
One significant loss on the defensive side of the ball is starting middle linebacker Kristian Welch. He’s a senior, Wisconsin native, and one of Iowa’s four team captains and he will be missing his third straight game due to a stinger issue that hasn’t fully responded to treatment. Filling his spot will be redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle and true freshman Jack Campbell. Really feel bad for Welch missing this game because it would have meant a lot to him as a Wisconsin kid playing one final time in Madison.
The Hawkeyes will get back one player on the offensive line in guard Kyler Schott. He’s an interesting story as a walk-on who got his opportunity early in the season and seemed to be solidifying his spot in the starting lineup before going down with an injury. He’s missed several weeks, but he might move right back into the starting lineup on Saturday due to Iowa’s issues this season at guard.
3. Iowa's averaging over 392 yards of offense through eight games but is averaging under 25 points per contest. What's been going well with Nate Stanley under center, but also what has and has not worked so far this season?
It’s a big part of the reason that Keith Duncan has made 19 field goals this season. Iowa just hasn’t been finishing off drives, especially in the past month. Iowa does score 96 percent of the time they get into the red zone, but just 59 percent of the time they get into the end zone. The real issue has been just outside the red zone and continuing drives into that area. Iowa has done a nice job of driving to the in - between the opposing teams 30-40 yard line, but a lot of drives have just flamed out in that area of the field. They pile up the yards, but it ends up being empty calories.
As far as Stanley, it’s kind of been a tale of two different seasons for the Wisconsin native. In the first four games of the season, he threw eight touchdown passes and had zero interceptions. In the last four games, two of which Iowa lost, he has had a pair of touchdown passes and five interceptions.
A significant part of the issues for Iowa’s offense really goes to the run game. The Hawkeyes were averaging over 200 yards a game on the ground in the first four weeks, but since then they have averaged just 74 yards per game. Bottom line, if Iowa can’t run the ball effectively, then they are going to struggle to finish drives and score points. It also means that quarterback is going to probably face tougher down and distance situations that are harder to convert.
4. Statistically speaking, the Hawkeyes appear to among the nation's best in several defensive categories. What's made them so good, but also, where have they struggled?
The Iowa defense is really interesting this season because in a lot of ways they are kind of smoke and mirrors. Last year, the Hawkeye defense was really pretty good and you could look to the fact that they had 35 sacks and 20 interceptions as a big reason why they had success.
This season Iowa has just 16 sacks and six interceptions. Yet, they are putting up historic numbers as far as points per game at 10.1. So, it’s really not been due to putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback or creating multiple turnovers. Part of it has been being good against the run, allowing just 87.8 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Iowa is also the only team in the country to not allow a rush of more than 20 yards this season.
It’s also been about being good on third down and allowing a conversion rate of just 33 percent. The other area that Iowa has excelled at is not allowing big plays by opposing teams. We already mentioned no rushes over 20 yards this season and they have only allowed six passing plays over 30 yards this season.
If there’s a struggle it’s been on first and second down, where Iowa actually hasn’t been great at stopping the run, or at least as good as they would like to be. The coaches believe that’s a big reason why the sack and interception numbers are down because opposing teams aren’t put in third and long situations as much as they would like.
5. Who or what could give Wisconsin fits from Iowa on Saturday, and vice versa, where could the Badgers have the edge?
That’s a good question. On the offensive side of the ball, I’d say keep an eye on junior wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and freshman running back Tyler Goodson. They are probably Iowa’s two most explosive offensive players. If Iowa’s going down the field in the passing game, then more than likely the shot play is going to Smith-Marsette. Goodson is a pretty dynamic back who is a pretty effective runner and very good out of the backfield catching passes.
On defense, I think two players who could give the Badgers trouble are A.J. Epenesa and Geno Stone. They are the two biggest impact type players. Epenesa is a potential first round pick in April and has a high motor. Stone is one of those guys in the defensive backfield that always seems to be around the ball making a big play. He’s a junior who has really assumed the leadership role on the back end of the defense.
I think the Badgers big area to potential exploit will be along the Iowa offensive line. While the Hawkeyes have a pair of excellent tackles and a promising redshirt freshman at center, the guard play this season has been spotty at best. Iowa allowed eight sacks at Michigan as the Wolverines blitzed the Hawkeyes over and over again. Given that Wisconsin likes to bring pressure, it has to be a big concern for Iowa on Saturday.
6. What's your game prediction, and why?
Given that both Iowa and Wisconsin have two conference losses and Minnesota heads into the weekend without a loss in league play, this is a true elimination game. Not that the season will be over for either team, but the road to Indy closes for one of the two teams.
I suspect that the Badgers are probably a little angry after two straight losses and a week to stew on it, so I kind of think they come to the field with a purpose. It’s going to be important for Iowa to come out strong if they want to pull the upset. Fall behind early and this one has the potential for getting as ugly as it was two years ago. My pick in this game is Wisconsin. I don’t think it will be as one-sided as it was the last time Iowa was in Madison, but I think the Badgers bounce back and win by double figures in a relatively low-scoring affair.