This game is incredibly important for both teams, as it could decide who wins the Big Ten West. Here are three keys for each team to win.
Run the ball well
In their last two games Wisconsin has averaged less than four yards per carry — their fewest amounts this year — and have lost both games. Coincidence? I think not. Running back Jonathan Taylor is too dominant of a running back to get repeatedly shut down by three consecutive opposing defenses, but Iowa’s defense is one of the top in the Big Ten. Illinois and Ohio State have laid out a blueprint for other teams to follow if they want to beat Wisconsin, and it starts with containing the run. If the run game isn’t working, quarterback Jack Coan will have to shoulder the load and the chances of the Badgers losing a third straight are high. However, if the run game can flourish like it did the first six weeks of the Badgers season, the pressure on quarterback Jack Coan will be relieved and the offensive playbook will stay wide open. Iowa’s defense may be good, but it’s probably not good enough to stop the Badger run game in full force.
Clean up the Offensive line
This goes along with running the ball well, but Wisconsin’s offensive line needs to find its early season form. Against Ohio State Jack Coan was sacked five times — more than any other game this year. While that may be acceptable facing a defensive end like Chase Young for Ohio State, it wont fly against Iowa. Coan was under duress constantly in the second half of the Illinois game and the entire Ohio State game, which is not where he is most comfortable as a quarterback. The line also needs to clean up its shaky play in the run game. In back to back games Jonathan Taylor has looked more mortal than ever before in his college career, and I’m not ready to say it’s his fault yet. The holes haven’t been there for Taylor, as he has been swallowed up by defenses. If the line can block well this game, Taylor should have a huge afternoon.
Against Illinois the Badgers got complacent and let the game slip away from them, and against Ohio State their will power seemed to get sapped by a touchdown early in the second half. Wisconsin can’t afford to let those mental lapses happen again against a talented Iowa team, because they will take advantage of it. The highs and lows of a game can’t get to this team if they have any hope of still making a major bowl game, or even the Big Ten Championship game. On paper, Wisconsin is the more talented team, and as long as they do not screw up too badly and react well to any adversity thrown at them, it should be a relatively easy victory.
Continue to build
Iowa started the season red-hot, but cooled off in two straight losses to Michigan and Penn State. But, since those games the Hawkeyes won a close contest against Purdue, and a Big Ten blowout against Northwestern. Iowa was able to eclipse 300 total yards in both of these games, which may not sound initially impressive, but for the Big Ten conference that’s a solid yardage output. The Hawkeyes saw their first 100 yard receiver against Purdue, and had two receivers near that against Northwestern. Iowa’s offense has been slow to come around, but if the last two contests are any indicator they are on the rise. If the Hawkeyes can continue to build off it’s solid last two outings it could put some serious pressure on the Badgers defense.
Contain Jonathan Taylor
Illinois and Ohio State both were able to do it, and both teams came away with a victory. After Alex Hornibrook transferred last year, many Badger fans expected a more dynamic passing game that could survive without a 150 plus yard day from Taylor, but here we are. Badger quarterback Jack Coan has been an improvement over Hornibrook, but has yet to prove he can carry the team with his arm. If Iowa’s defense can shut Taylor down, they have a clear road map to victory. The Hawkeye defense is nothing to scoff at either, as it ranks as one of the best in the conference, behind only Wisconsin. If Taylor can’t get going, it would create chaos on the Badger sideline for a third straight week, and could lead Iowa to a victory.
Ride Nate Stanley’s arm
Nate Stanley has put up the most yards in the Big Ten this year — racking up nearly 2,000 through eight games — and it’s also his last chance to beat his hometown team. Stanley grew up in nearby Menomonie, Wisconsin before choosing to play for the Hawkeyes. Stanley-led Hawkeye teams have lost by a combined 35 points in two contests versus the Badgers, but this year could be different. The Badgers have hit a rough patch of play recently and look more vulnerable than ever, while Iowa has broken off two impressive wins riding Stanley’s performances. With how good Iowa’s defense is, hypothetically Iowa only needs three touchdowns from the offense. The run game leaves a lot to be desired, but if Stanley can put up another big game Iowa may just knock Wisconsin out of the top 25.