As much as the attention around college football is focused on the College Football Playoff and the Heisman contenders as well as the flashy teams and players that are contending for each, we sometimes lose sight of some of the middle of the pack teams who also have their own stories and fun storylines that deserve the attention of the college football world.
The No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes (5-2) are one of those teams. After last beating Wisconsin and winning the Big Ten West in 2015, narrowly missing out on a spot in the College Football Playoff, Iowa has not seen much major success since.
After going through four mediocre years with former quarterback Nate Stanley, riddled with appearances in the Pinstripe Bowl and Outback Bowl, many came into this 2020 season not very high on the prospects of an Iowa football team even competing in an improving Big Ten. After losing their first two games to start the season, many felt substantiated in their preseason feelings.
However, Iowa football then stormed back in the Big Ten standings with five straight wins against conference opponents, proving all of the preseason prognosticators wrong that the Hawkeyes were now a team to be reckoned with. Iowa is averaging 37.2 points-per-game the last five weeks and has played 21 straight games without allowing 25 points, the longest streak of any Power Five team.
To better ascertain just what type of team Wisconsin can expect to see down at Kinnick Stadium, we at the Daily Cardinal reached out to Robert Read, a junior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and sports studies while also serving as the Pregame Editor at the Daily Iowan.
“Iowa's duo of running backs has been critical to the team's success over the past five weeks,” Read said of the Hawkeyes’ strengths. “Tyler Goodson is toward the top of the Big Ten in rushing yards, and despite receiving limited carries at times, Sargent has seven touchdowns on the ground this year.”
As for quarterback play, it hasn’t been nearly as pretty.
“Spencer Petras is wildly inconsistent in his first year as Iowa's starting quarterback, so the Hawkeyes have depended heavily on the ground game, especially during their winning streak,” Read said. “Petras is up and down. Sometimes he lacks touch on his passes and looks uncomfortable in the pocket. But he had his best three quarters of football last week after a rough first 15 minutes. He threw a career-high three touchdowns last week.”
Read also brought up the fact that Iowa has a very deep receiver room this season, but that you should look for tight end Sam LaPorta to be Petras' favorite option. LaPorta leads Iowa with 26 receptions and 260 yards.
Along the offensive line, Read noted that center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Alaric Jackson have the potential to be first round draft picks, but that the Hawkeyes have seen injuries at other positions on the offensive trench.
“The wildcat formation is an interesting new wrinkle into Iowa's offense this season. It's not something the team goes to often,” Read noted. “But it has been effective. Goodson lines up as the Wildcat quarterback, and he's joined by Sargent in the backfield. Iowa goes with a sort of read option look out of it, and also gets receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Tyrone Tracy Jr. involved with sweeps and reverses out of the formation.”
Read then brought up the defense, which is the strength of this Iowa team.
“This season is another example of how good a defensive coordinator Phil Parker is,” opined Read. “Iowa lost star pass rusher A.J. Epenesa, its top corner and safety, its two starting defensive tackles, its middle linebacker, and had its starting weakside linebacker from last season ... But Parker and his defense are only allowing 17.3 points per game this season, which is top-20 in the country.”
Read also praised defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon as potentially Iowa's MVP this season. After starting only one game last season, Nixon has shown to be an every-down player this year and is disruptive on seemingly every play.
Nixon has amassed an impressive 41 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown. Read noted that Nixon may be the favorite for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and has a shot at first-team All-American.
When addressing Iowa’s perpetual strengths on special teams, Read noted that the unit has been very impressive in pushing Iowa to victories.
Read then brought up the Hawkeye punter’s unique background, mentioning that “Tory Taylor is a 23-year-old freshman from Australia who hadn't even seen an American football game in person before playing in Iowa's season opener. He's adapted quickly, averaging 44.6 yards per punt, downing 17 inside the 20, and not allowing a touchback all season.”
The Wisconsin/Iowa matchup is one of the Big Ten trophy games, and it’s been all Badgers in the last few seasons.
“Iowa has had a lot of success in trophy games recently,” said Read. “The team is 18-4 in its last 22 trophy games, and all four losses are to Wisconsin. No player on Iowa's roster has defeated Wisconsin.”
Impressively, the only team the seniors haven't beaten in the Big Ten is Wisconsin. Read noted that head coach Kirk Ferentz described this week how when he was an assistant at Iowa in the '80s, the Hawkeyes loved to play the Badgers because they knew they'd win.
“That's obviously changed in his time as a head coach here,” Read noted. “Ferentz calls Wisconsin the standard in the West right now. And I have to imagine that defeating Wisconsin and getting the seniors that win would be the highlight of the season for Iowa so far.”