BY TIM TAUER
It has been somewhat of a slow start to the running game by Wisconsin football standards, but last week the Badgers (3-1) seemed to finally settle into the adjustments made on the ground after Corey Clement’s injury a few weeks ago. The Badgers (3-1) put on quite a show, blowing out Hawaii (2-2) 28-0 and putting up over 200 yards running for the first time this season.
A true test of the run game comes this week in Wisconsin’s conference opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0). Iowa has allowed 84.0 rushing yards per game and is just one of two teams who have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. With such a dominant run defense, Kirk Ferentz will try to set the tempo by shutting down Wisconsin runners Dare Ogunbowale and Tawiwan Deal as early as possible.
Thus, the key to a Badgers victory this Saturday may very well have to come through the air. After a rocky (and at times abysmal) 2014 season for Stave, the 6′ 5” 225lb senior seems to be playing like a smart, more experienced quarterback. He currently has the highest completion percentage of his collegiate career, and if he can keep from turning the ball over, could capitalize on opportunities from defenses who focus too much on the Badgers’ run attack.
Stave had great success against Iowa the last time these two teams met, going 11-for-14 for 139 yards at Kinnick Stadium. It was a crucial victory for Wisconsin, as defeating Iowa (and Minnesota one week later) secured them a spot in the Big Ten Championship.
Other than the 35-17 loss against Alabama (3-1), Wisconsin opponents have yet to score more than three points a game, with two of Wisconsin’s opponents unable to put any points on the board what-so-ever.
However, the days of playing Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii are over, and Big Ten play begins.
Iowa has, arguably, the best quarterback the organization has had in a very long time in C.J. Beathard. He’s efficient, accurate, and can run if need be.
Bearthard’s deep ball, however, isn’t as fine tuned as the rest of his play. He’s missed key scoring opportunities when going deep and has thrown some questionable long-balls. Should he throw one up, expect Badgers backs to go beyond preventative defense and attack the passing game in an attempt to create turnovers.
But as Badgers and Hawkeyes fans know, this game isn’t just about improving your spot in the ranking or getting a conference victory; Its a storied rivalry dating back to 1894. As-of-date, these two teams have met on the gridiron a staggering 79 times with the Badgers leading 44-42-2 (.511).
For Paul Chryst this rivalry is especially significant, having experienced it as a player, offensive coordinator, and now head coach for the Wisconsin Badgers. The rivalry aspect of this game was certainly a part of Chryst’s game preparation.
“Yeah, we’re going to talk about it, and I think it’s important” Says Chryst, “It’s one of the neat things I think that here at Wisconsin we have is we do have trophy games, and it’s part of the history of this program and tradition, and I want our guys to understand it and embrace it, so we’re definitely going to talk about it.”
The Badgers will host Iowa this Saturday at Camp Randall. If history tells us anything, this game will be an aggressive, no-holds-barred meeting between two great football programs.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28, Iowa 13
Game time: Saturday, October 3,11:00 AM CT on ESPN; Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI