What. A. Ballgame. It’s been a few days since Iowa’s outright beat down of #6 ranked Ohio State and I’m still somewhat in disbelief. Iowa always hangs with highly rated opponents within the confines of Kinnick Stadium. What Iowa doesn’t do is demolish a highly ranked program that they’ve only beaten twice since George H.W. Bush was President.
This was no fluke, and even Colin Cowherd gave Iowa their due respect after Saturday’s game. There are so many things that happened in this game to talk about, and for the first time all season, it’s all good things! Kirk Ferentz likes to talk about execution and how they just need to execute better. Well by God they sure did that on Saturday afternoon. Outside of the fake punt that didn’t make it late in the 4th quarter, the decision making was the best we’ve seen all season out of the Hawkeyes.
Brian Ferentz…..well done sir. He took a lot of criticism for his outburst on the replay official against Minnesota, and has been taking some heat for Iowa’s offense sputtering the last month or so. That got turned around on Saturday as Ferentz called a beauty of a game, and it didn’t hurt that the offensive execution is the best it’s been all season. They finally put it all together and picked one hell of an opponent to do it against.
Iowa’s two freshman tackles played up to their enormous potential, holding their own against the Buckeyes defensive line that held Saquon Barkley to a measly 44 yards on 21 carries. Don’t look now, but Iowa might have one of the best tight end tandems in the country. Sophomore Noah Fant is a match-up nightmare with his size/speed combination and redshirt freshman TJ Hockenson has no fear over the middle, catches everything, and don’t doubt his athleticism. As a prep, Hockenson still holds the Iowa state record for career touchdowns, and is top 3 in receptions and yardage. It was so fun to see Iowa tearing up the secondary with the tight ends like we used to see before Greg Davis came to town.
Can we talk for a second about Nate Stanley? That guy is turning into a darn good quarterback right before our eyes. How Wisconsin, Minnesota and really any other school in the Midwest missed out on him is beyond me. However, their loss has definitely been Iowa’s gain. Here’s a stat, Nate Stanley is the only QB in the last 20 years to throw for 5 touchdowns and no interceptions against an Ohio State defense. Not too shabby for a true sophomore, eh? His teammates rave about his calmness in the huddle and his business-like demeanor and it really shows. Look for the Wisconsin gun-slinger to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend up in Madison. In Tuesday’s media session, Stanley stated that one of his best friends is a linebacker for the Badgers, so I think it’s safe to assume that this is a big game for him.
Josh Jackson. He gone? Jackson has quietly been having a very good season so far in the Iowa secondary. On Saturday, Jackson announced his presence with authority with 3 interceptions of the mighty JT Barrett. He’s just another in a long line of defensive backs that Phil Parker is going to coach up into the top 4 rounds of the NFL Draft. I’d guess that if he receives a top 3 round grade after the end of the season, he’s as good as gone. Given what happened to Desmond King a few years ago, he’d be stupid not to leave. Top 3 rounds is life-changing money. He’s working his way into having a 1st team All-American season and will look to continue wreaking havoc across the B1G these last few weeks. Now to play devil’s advocate on this, in Ferentz’s weekly press conference he stated that all this talk about Jackson going pro is very premature in his eyes. Regardless, Josh Jackson has become a dominant cornerback in Iowa’s defensive scheme.
Those are the standouts from last weekend’s game, but now let’s look forward to this weekend. The Wisconsin Badgers are next on the docket for the Hawkeyes. This will be Iowa’s 2nd traveling trophy game in the last 3 weeks, playing for the Heartland Trophy….which is a trophy that’s been forced down fans’ throats, but it’s just a big bull. The Hawks will be trying to win the 10th out of their last 11 trophy games. This has been a weird series over the last decade or so. One where home-field advantage has basically been non-existent, as the road team has won the last six games. These teams’ strategies mirror each other in what they like to do, and the overall record of this match-up basically says the same thing. 43 wins for Iowa, 45 wins for Wisconsin, and two ties since they first started playing back in 1894.
The Badgers have been bitten pretty hard by the injury bug this year, despite have a perfect 9-0 record to this point. This week they’ll be without their top two wide receivers and their two best linebackers. The missing wide receivers won’t sting as much as the missing linebackers; as their 3-4 defensive scheme is heavily dependent on attacking linebackers. On the offensive side of the ball, the Badgers are carried by true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who has earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award five times so far this season. Taylor has already rushed for over 1,300 yards with a per carry average of 7.2, not too shabby for the young guy.
As always, Wisconsin is buoyed by a massive offensive line, averaging 322 pounds across the front five. One knock on this year’s Badgers, especially given the fact they’re undefeated, is their schedule. For example, Iowa has played the 8th toughest ranked schedule in the country to this point, and Wisconsin has the 58th ranked schedule according to teamrankings.com. This will definitely be Wisconsin’s biggest test so far this year, with a hungry Hawkeye squad looking to build off of last week’s demolition of #6 Ohio State.
For Iowa to be successful in Madison on Saturday, first and foremost, they’re going to have to stop or slow Wisconsin’s rushing game. Sophomore QB Alex Hornibrook is not the type that will sit back and pick a defense apart. He’s your typical game-manager that Wisconsin has primarily used in their offense over the years, and he’s also prone to miscues as he’s thrown 9 interceptions on the year to go with only 15 TDs. I think you’re going to see Iowa stack the box against the Badger run game and put their corners in a lot of 1-on-1 situations, daring Hornibrook to beat them down the field. Offensively, don’t put the genie back into the bottle. Just like the Ohio State game, keep pushing the ball downfield and utilize those tight ends to help open up the running game for #BUTWAD (Butler/Wadley, shoutout to John Sears for that), and wear them down on what figures to be a chilly Saturday afternoon in Madison.
Prediction: Iowa JUMPS AROUND on the Badgers by a score of 24-14.