Iowa offense vs. Wisconsin defense
This is not news to a lot of Iowa fans who remember a small-town Illinois defensive tackle, but Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema doesn’t believe in pitter patter. Days after Wisconsin fell to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, Bielema fired co-defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and promoted the other “co,” Dave Doeren. Doeren is calling defenses for the Badgers. There hasn’t been much tweaking, with Bielema’s background so rooted in defense (defensive tackle for Iowa from 1989-92, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator), Wisconsin’s defense certainly reflects his vision. Since Bielema has been on the Badgers’ staff, the UW is 31-2 when allowing 20 or fewer points.
Until last week’s letdown against Penn State, the Badgers’ defense had more than held its own this season. The Badgers’ secondary is 28th in the country in pass efficiency defense (108.1) and has eight interceptions, including at least one in each of the last five games. The Badgers have also been ballhawks, forcing 14 turnovers this season, including an impressive 13 in the last five games.
UW’s front seven has been playing at a high level, according to the numbers. The Badgers allow only 120.7 rushing yards a game, with 3.8 a carry. Senior tackles Jason Chapman (3.5 tackles for loss) and Mike Newkirk (4.5 tackles for loss) have been productive. Senior end Matt Shaughnessy is on watch lists. Junior end O’Brien Schofield leads the Badgers with three sacks.
Weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas missed the first two games this season with a knee injury, but he’s made up for lost time, racking up 28 tackles, third on the team. Middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden leads the Badgers and is tied for ninth in the Big Ten with 48 tackles. He’s playing with a cast on his right hand after suffering a broken bone against Fresno State three weeks ago.
There has been some upheaval in the Badgers’ secondary. Junior free safety Chris Maragos started ahead of junior Shane Carter last week, making six tackles. Carter, who led the Big Ten with seven interceptions last season, ended up splitting time with Maragos, who holds field goals, starts on all four special teams units and is a converted wideout.
For the first time this season, Iowa’s offense hit on all cylinders last week at Indiana.
Iowa’s offensive line put up maybe the most impressive performance from an Iowa O-line since sometime during the 2006 season. The inside trio of center Rob Bruggeman and guards Seth Olsen and Julian Vandervelde are winning one-on-one battles with DTs and making their way to linebackers and safeties. Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway are right there with the inside guys. Don’t forget the tight ends. Brandon Myers and Allen Reisner have performed well, with the most notable example being the seal Reisner put on RB Shonn Greene’s 12-yard run last week.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi still has awkward moments. Iowa’s first scoring drive started at IU’s 11 last week and Stanzi was nearly picked off twice trying to force quick slants. He also had a wobbly 35-yard completion that also could’ve been a pick if not for a stellar effort by WR Andy Brodell. Positives, he’s taking to Iowa’s play action passing game and making it a weapon and is moving the chains. Iowa is second in the conference with 153 first downs and third with 32:01 in time of possession.
After tweaking his right ankle on his second carry last week, Greene returned and finished with 115 yards and a TD. He showed up for the postgame and said he’d be ready this week.
Iowa defense vs. Wisconsin offense
“Change” is a word you’ve heard a lot of politicians use the last few weeks. Hang that term on the Badgers’ offense this week, too.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, junior Dustin Sherer was No. 1 at the Badgers’ practice Tuesday, replacing struggling starter Allan Evridge. Evridge, a senior, started the first six games for UW but was pulled in the third quarter of the loss to Penn State after throwing an interception. He has turned the ball over eight times in three Big Ten games — four fumbles and four interceptions.
So far this season, Sherer is 11 of 19 for 143 yards and an interception. Coming into the season, he was 0-for-3 with an interception for his career. His only playing time last season was the final snap of the Indiana game on Oct. 27. After replacing Evridge last week, Sherer completed nine of 17 passes for 115 yards. He threw one interception and saw another overturned by the replay official.
The spine of UW’s offense is the O-line. That unit has also taken some hits the last few weeks. According to the Journal Sentinel, Tuesday’s O-line included redshirt freshman Josh Ogelsby and sophomore Bill Nagy. Oglesby replaced left tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) last week and might again this week. Nagy is holding a spot for Kraig Urbik, who has a streak of 45 straight starts on the line after suffering a knee injury last week. This is a veteran group with a lot of pride and will be looking for redemption after last week.
Wisconsin being Wisconsin, the Badgers are blessed with two mega-backs, P.J. Hill and John Clay. Hill (5-11, 236), you know about. This season, Hill’s numbers are down because he’s splitting carries with Clay. He averages 95.0 yards a game and 4.6 a carry. He’s sixth on UW’s career rushing list with 3,351 yards. His career average of 111.7 yards a game is second among active players with at least 15 career games played. His 22.2 carries a game are also second among active rushers. He also has 36 career TDs. Clay (6-2, 237) leads the Badgers with 6.2 yards a carry.
UW’s best weapon might be senior tight end Travis Beckum, who’s missed all or most of three games this season. Since returning the last two games, Beckum has 11 catches for 139 yards. He’s the Badgers’ top receiver with 17 for 207 this season. In two career starts against the Hawkeyes, Beckum has 12 catches for 88 yards and two TDs.
Last Saturday, Iowa defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul put on maybe the most dominant collective performance in four years as starters. Taking advantage of an injury at center and some shifting, King had three tackles for loss and a sack. Kroul ended up with four tackles and spent more time in the IU backfield than QB Kellen Lewis. They’ll need a repeat performance.
The No. 1 name on Iowa’s injury front is sophomore defensive end Adrian Clayborn. He suffered an ankle injury and didn’t play in the second half last week. He showed up for interviews Tuesday, but the real test was how his ankle held up during the week. We’ll find that out today.
Linebackers Pat Angerer and Jeremiha Hunter started the season as marginal starters, but both seem to have staked a flag in the middle and weakside linebacker spots, respectively. They lead Iowa with 46 tackles apiece and have three interceptions between them.
UW freshman kicker Phillip Welch has been accurate (9 of 11) and has shown some leg (4 of 5 from 40-plus yards). He tied a school record with four field goals at Michigan, which included a 52-yarder that is tied for fourth longest in school history. True freshman punter Brad Nortman averages 41.0 yards a kick, tied for sixth among true freshmen nationally. Sophomore receiver David Gilreath is a weapon as a kick returner, averaging 24.3 yards a return.
After a rough couple weeks, Iowa’s special teams have sharpened the last two games. Freshman RB Jewel Hampton averages 24.9 yards on kick returns. WR Andy Brodell is third in the conference with 11.8 yards a punt return. P Ryan Donahue put it together last week and is now fourth in the conference with 42.2 a punt. Freshman kicker Trent Mossbrucker is 9 of 10 and has hit seven straight, but he hasn’t been asked to make the big one yet.
Here’s a headline in a Wisconsin paper this week: “Bielema must get act together now.” The story is grounded but it does touch on a nasty undercurrent of fandom in Badgerland that has produced a couple of “firebretbielema” sort of websites. The guy is 21-5. You’re Wisconsin, just like Iowa is Iowa. It’s never going to be a red-carpet ride to the Rose Bowl for either program.
Iowa played with purpose and precision last week. The purpose hasn’t been the problem this season. The 2008 Hawkeyes are a Kirk Ferentz team to the bone — tough on both lines of scrimmage and capable of solid special teams play. Precision killed the Hawkeyes during their three-game losing streak, in the form of turnovers. Give offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe credit on Stanzi’s development. Last season, Stanzi was the clipboard guy signaling plays in. This year, he’s running the show. Quite an about-face.