The Wisconsin Badgers are ranked 24th in the current BCS standings (22nd in the AP) and they head into Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday. One thing Iowa can be sure is that Wisconsin will be bringing its dominant running game to Kinnick Stadium for the noon CT kickoff. Wisconsin is 5-2 (3-1 in conference play) and still has lofty expectations for this season. Iowa has played better than some have expected and are 5-3 (2-2 in conference play) coming off an overtime victory over Northwestern. All of the Hawkeyes’ losses are to teams who are currently ranked as they lost their season opener to Northern Illinois and then lost consecutive games to Michigan State and Ohio State in conference play.
The Badgers have their work cut out for them if they want to keep up their pace of 39.9 points and 296.9 rushing yards per game. The Battle for the Heartland Trophy is always a tough game no matter how good either team is.
The rivalry between the Badgers and Hawkeyes stretches all the way back to 1894 and the all-time series is tied at 42-42-2. This has to be the most even rivalry in college football history. The Badgers look to break the series tie and keep custody of the Heartland Trophy this Saturday but in order to do so they’ll need to win the game in the trenches. Wisconsin’s defense, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best points against average at 15.9, will look to slow down junior fullback Mark Weisman. Weisman has run for a respectable 732 yards on the season. But the Badgers have a runner of their own in Melvin Gordon III who has run for 1012 yards while playing one less game. It’s safe the say the Badgers have the upper hand in the running department but they will need to execute like they have all season in order to pull out a victory in Iowa City. Iowa’s defense is no slouch, as it is allowing only 18.1 points-per-game.
For added drama it should be noted that Gordon was once an Iowa commit but flipped to Wisconsin late in his recruitment. Hooray for that, I’m much happier writing about what Gordon can do for the Badgers this week and not what he could do against them. Gordon is running away with the Ameche-Dayne Award (appropriately named after two former Badgers) given to the Big Ten’s top running back and a big game over a tough Iowa squad on the road could put the competition to rest.
This game also marks the return of senior linebacker Chris Borland, an emotional leader of the Badgers and maybe even the state of Wisconsin as a whole. Borland says he is ready to play after recovering from a hamstring injury sustained against Illinois. He recovered partly in thanks to the Badgers’ second bye week of October last week. Head coach Gary Andersen spoke earlier in the year about how he didn’t like the second bye week. Since it allowed Borland to not miss a game I’m sure he’s singing a different tune right now. Borland is one forced-fumble away from tying the all-time FBS record of 15. Borland will be looking to force a turnover from Iowa’s sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock, who has thrown eight interceptions on the year.
Quarterback Joel Stave is coming off his best game of the season in which he threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Stave looked poised and didn’t suffer from the same problems with accuracy that had plagued him earlier in the year. The man who Stave is throwing the ball to most of the time is Jared Abbrederis, who Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said is the best player in the conference. That is some impressive acclaim coming from a respected coach such as Ferentz.
If the Badgers get Gordon and senior running back James White going early the Hawkeyes will be in trouble. Bucky will then be able to utilize the play-action and Stave should be able to get the ball to Abbrederis and then the rest Iowa’s team will get to see what Ferentz was talking about.
The game will be televised on ABC and it promises to be an entertaining and hard-fought rivalry match-up. I see the Badgers getting their running game going early on Iowa’s tough defense and pulling out an impressive road victory. With Gordon, White and Abbrederis the Badgers just have too much firepower for the Hawkeyes to handle.