The Wisconsin football team has played against four ranked teams this season and has had arguably one of the toughest schedules in the NCAA. The upcoming matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes may be the biggest game they’ve played yet.
Not only will the #9 Hawkeyes be the highest-ranked team they’ve played this season, but this game could very well decide the winner of the Big Ten West division.
I think this is a winnable game for the Wisconsin football team. They are at home, have some momentum, and definitely something to play for. Here are three things the Badgers have to do if they are going to come out of this game with a victory.
1. Limit turnovers; the Achilles heel for the Wisconsin football team
The offense for the Wisconsin football team has been terrible taking care of the ball this season. The Badgers have turned the ball over 16 times this season (7 fumbles and 9 interceptions). The only team who have turned it over more are South Carolina (17), Hawaii (18), and Marshall (19). Not great.
Up until the Purdue game, the defense really struggled to force turnovers as well. Even with their five forced turnovers against the Boilermakers, the Badgers still have a -7 turnover margin on the year, tied for 122nd in the NCAA out of 130 total teams.
The turnovers are going to be huge in this game. Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports looked into the percentage of points allowed off turnovers and scored off of turnovers. The top teams in each category are playing in this game.
That just goes to show how opportunistic the Hawkeyes have been this year. Almost 40% of all of their points have come after the defense created a turnover. That’s a lot.
Meanwhile, the defense for the Wisconsin football team has been so good, that more than half of the points they’ve allowed have come after a turnover by the Wisconsin offense. The defense alone allows just 18.4 points per game, good for 18th in the country. Imagine how low that would be if the offense would take care of the ball. That stat could be as low as 9.2 points per game if the offense didn’t turn the ball over. Now, that’s a little unrealistic, but the point still stands that if the offense would take care of the ball, the defense would allow even fewer points, because they would be on a shorter field a lot less often.
If the Wisconsin offense can take care of the ball, I have all the confidence in the world that this defense will be able to hold Iowa under two scores.
2. Keep the run game rolling
It’s no secret that the passing game is struggling, or even virtually nonexistent. Last game, the Badgers threw the ball just eight times, and only twice in the second half, and still left with a 30-13 victory on the road. That’s crazy.
It’s not sustainable to continue playing this way, but it’s what’s working for the Badgers right now. Until they can get the passing game going, the Badgers will, and should, continue leaning on their 1-2 punch of Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen to carry this offense.
Mellusi and Allen have combined for 739 in the past three games. Allen has hit 100+ yards in each of the past three games, while Mellusi has four games this year with more than 100 yards on the ground.
When the Badgers can run the ball effectively, they are right where they want to be. They can wear down the opposing defense by keeping them on the field, but also control the time of possession. The longer they have the ball, the less the Hawkeyes will.
Both of these teams are very similar. A dominant defense with a struggling offense. Luckily for Wisconsin, however, their running game is hitting its stride at the perfect time.
3. Pressure Spencer Petras all game
I think Purdue gave the Badgers the perfect blueprint to stop Iowa’s offense. Purdue’s George Karliftis recorded 10 quarterback pressures on Spencer Petras alone when the Boilermakers beat the Hawkeyes 24-7 in Iowa City. They also added four sacks.
They got to Petras and made him uncomfortable all game. Petras threw for just 195 yards on 32 attempts and threw four picks. Granted, two or three of those picks were towards the end of the game when the Hawkeyes were in desperation mode, but I think the pressure they put on him all game made a big difference.
With the way the Wisconsin defense has been playing, I think they are more than capable of following that blueprint. Leo Chenal alone had 3.5 sacks last week and 2.5 the week before. If he continues to play like that, I think he’s going to be causing mayhem in the backfield all game.
We already know the run defense is going to show up, forcing Iowa to throw the ball. Guys like Chenal, Sanborn, Herbig, and Burks are going to be able to pin their ears back and rush the passer. If the Badgers can do that, I truly believe they shut down the Iowa offense and the Badgers win this game.