October 17, 2008

Wisconsin-Iowa breakdown

MADISON, Wis. - To say Wisconsin's three game losing streak to start the conference slate is disappointing is surely an understatement. But, Bbefore getting thrashed by Penn State's spread HD offense in Camp Randall, UW had only lost the previous two games by five points.

This week they face an Iowa team that, like the Badgers, have suffered a three game losing streak in 2008. However, after blowing out Indiana, the difference between these two teams is the Hawkeyes have already righted their ship.


The following is a breakdown of Saturday's contest:

When Wisconsin has the ball:

It looks as though Dustin Sherer will get his first career start at quarterback versus Iowa this weekend. Knowing that, one could bet the Badgers will come out and try to establish a running game. I emphasize the word try in that previous statement because Iowa's defense is downright nasty.

Flanking the middle of the Hawkeye defensive line are tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Each anchors a defensive unit that has allowed just under 11 points per game.

"They remind me a lot of Mike Newkirk," UW center John Moffitt said earlier this week. "Mitch King is like a Mike Newkirk. The guy Kroul is a little bigger guy, not as much, but still. They're fast guys, they get hands on quick, they're strong guys so I think it's important to get after them and as always you've got to play a 60 minute game."

Because the Badgers will likely have a difficult time running the ball consistently, the passing game, especially through play-action, will need to be consistent. For the first time since fall camp, both Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham practiced the entire week. So, having both those playmakers at full strength will help the UW passing attack.

Still, the inconsistent and banged up offensive line will have to play one of its better games if UW hopes to escape Kinnick Stadium with a win.

Advantage: Iowa holds a slight edge. The Hawkeyes can stop the run, and if they do, it could be another tough offensive day for the Badgers.

When Iowa has the ball:

Is there a guy in the Big Ten who is more under the radar than Iowa running back Shonn Greene? In seven games this season, Greene has rushed for 937 yards and has scored six touchdowns. He is a big, 5-foot-11, 235-pound, powerful tailback that plays similar to UW's Hill.

"The number two rusher in our conference (Greene), (is) a very, very good football player," UW head coach Bret Bielema said at his press conference earlier in the week. "It's a tremendous challenge and a great opportunity for us to go on the road and get a good gauge of where we're in the football program."

So far, excluding the Penn State game, the UW defense has been somewhat stout throughout the majority of the game. But a couple of big play let downs have plagued the defensive unit. Ricky Stanzi has settled into the quarterback role and possesses an accurate arm. If Greene gets going running the ball, Iowa would see the Badger defense start to sneak up in the box and could potentially burn UW with the play-action pass.

Advantage: Iowa holds the slight edge.

Special Teams:

UW punter Brad Nortman has seen his fair share of inconsistency midway through the season. During his first three collegiate games, his leg strength was impressive. However, over the past three contests, he has not been striking the ball as well as he is capable of. In what figures to be a tough, physical Big Ten battle, field position will be key and that starts with good punting.

Badger return specialist David Gilreath has also been somewhat inconsistent while receiving kicks and punts. Last season, he was a legitimate threat to take the ball to the house anytime he touched it. This season, however, he has not seen that production. Maybe this rivalry game will be the time he breaks out of his special teams slump.

For Iowa, Jewel Hampton leads the team in kick return yardage, averaging nearly 25 yards per return. Meanwhile, Andy Brodell has seen success while returning punts for the Hawkeyes this season. He averages 11.8 yards per return and has taken one punt return for a touchdown.

So many times in games pitting two evenly matched teams, special teams determine the final result.

Advantage: Push

Prediction:

I understand every game during the college football season is a must win, but this one against Iowa means a little more for a floundering Badger squad. Expect UW to come out with something to prove this weekend and give Iowa all they can handle in Kinnick Stadium. The Badgers will finally put together a complete four-quarter game and beat the Hawkeyes 20-14 in choppy, grind-it-out fashion.

Lea's record:
4-2 overall

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