Fearless prediction: Wisconsin faces tough test at Iowa
Wisconsin will look for its first win in nearly a month when it travels to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes in a rivalry game on Saturday.
With disappointing losses to Northwestern and Indiana sandwiched around a cancellation, it’s been a rough go of it for the Badgers recently as the preseason favorites to win the B1G West dropped to 2-2.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes are playing their best ball of the year, winning 5 consecutive games after close losses to Purdue and Northwestern to start the season.
The last game of the regular season for both teams will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT from Kinnick Stadium.
Wisconsin’s offense vs. Iowa’s defense
Wisconsin cannot look as bad as it did in either of the last two games, right? Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz turned the ball over 6 times in the 2 losses. With Jack Coan healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked if we see him enter the game if Mertz’s struggles continue early.
Regardless of who’s throwing the ball, the Badgers will need some help from the pass catchers, and we’re not exactly sure who will be available. Tight end Jake Ferguson will continue to be option No. 1, but starting wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have both battled injuries, leaving Wisconsin pretty thin at the position.
One of the biggest mysteries of the Wisconsin offense is why true freshman running back Jalen Berger isn’t getting the ball more than he has been, especially with the struggles in the passing game. He has topped out at 15 carries in the 3 games he’s played this season despite being the most effective option the last two games. I think we’ll see him take on a heavier workload on Saturday.
Wisconsin struggled in its two games against quality defenses, and it won’t get any easier against Iowa, which has been very good in all areas this season. The Hawkeyes rank 6th in the country, allowing 4.3 yards per play. Iowa is 13th in yards per pass attempt and 8th in yards per rush defensively.
Wisconsin’s defense vs. Iowa’s offense
Sophomore Spencer Petras has been a bit inconsistent in his first season as a starter for the Hawkeyes, but he is playing his best ball now, though he hasn’t seen much in terms of competent defenses recently. Petras never completed more than 56.4% of his passes in his first four games, which included 3 touchdown passes and 4 interceptions. In the last three, Petras completed at least 60% of his passes in each with 4 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Like Wisconsin, Iowa is led by its tight end, with Sam LaPorta leading the Hawkeyes in receiving.
On the ground, it’s been mostly a two-man show with Tyler Goodson carrying the majority of the workload, averaging 5 yards per carry with 656 yards and 6 touchdowns. Mekhi Sargent has also gotten consistent work, though he is getting about half the carries Goodson is receiving. Sargent is averaging 6 yards per rush for 381 yards and has found the end zone 7 times. In all, this is the best running team the Badgers have faced all year.
It’s a small sample size through just four games played, but Wisconsin’s defense ranks even better than Iowa. The Badgers rank 4th in yards per play allowed at 4.2, which includes a No. 3 ranking in yards per pass attempt and No. 5 in yards per rush attempt allowed. Wisconsin lost its last two, but the defense cannot be blamed for either loss.
My prediction hinges on the health of Wisconsin’s wide receivers. While Mertz has certainly struggled the last two games throwing the ball, the pass catchers haven’t given him a whole lot to work with. Indiana showed the blueprint last week of simply not letting tight end Jake Ferguson beat it, and that’s likely going to be the strategy for this Iowa defense.
Wisconsin hasn’t been releasing injury/coronavirus information all season long, so we really have no idea whether Davis or Pryor will return to the lineup on Saturday. Since the title of this article is fearless prediction, I have to make a stance.
Iowa will win this game 17-14 and snap its four-game losing streak in the battle for the Heartland Trophy.