Skip to main content

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa last defeated rival Wisconsin in consecutive meetings during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Badgers have claimed victory in seven of the last nine games in the series. 

From '02-09, the Hawkeyes won six of eight matchups against the Badgers. Then came the fake punt game of '10. It helped derail what was expected to be a special season. 

It was thought Iowa maybe exorcised the demons with a 10-6 triumph in '15. Nope. Wisconsin took the next four. 

Now we see if the Hawkeyes can change the balance of power in the West Division on Saturday (11 a.m CT, ESPN) in Madison. They're looking to build on last year's 28-7 victory against the Badgers. 

"The leaders on this team are trying to make sure everybody knows that we can still accomplish what we want to accomplish and that's to go out there and hopefully accomplish a Big Ten title," Hawkeye running back Tyler Goodson said. "

Since the league established the East and West Divisions in '14, Wisconsin has claimed four West titles. Northwestern won two, including last season. Iowa's lone crown came in '15. 

Saturday presents the Hawkeyes with an excellent opportunity to flip the script, change the narrative, if you will. A loss would be more of the same. 

Despite being upset by Purdue on Oct. 16, No. 9 Iowa (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) comes off this past week's bye controlling its own destiny. It's tied with Minnesota atop the West with five contests remaining against the division. 

A win on Saturday puts the Hawkeyes two games up on Wisconsin with four to play and the head-to-head edge. Two weeks later, they get the Gophers at home. 

"Offensively, defensively and special teams, they understand who they are. They understand what they're asked to do and I think they do it extremely well," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said of the Hawkeyes. "You can't just look at one game (Purdue). One game is one game. 

"I've been fortunate enough to go against this team and you know it's a good football team. I see the same thing this year. It's always a challenging week. I think that's why our kids get excited about it. 

Iowa was tasked with finding offensive consistency that's been lacking during the bye week. It came into Monday ranked 73rd nationally in scoring (28.0) - a number aided by three defensive scores - 120th in total offense (310.9 yards per game) and 103rd in rushing (116.6 YPG). 

The Hawkeyes may not need major advancements on that side of the ball on Saturday. Wisconsin also is offensively challenged. 

The Badgers' 21.1 points per game rank 110th nationally. They're 90th in total offense (364.9 YPG) and 123rd in passing offense (146.0). 

Sophomore Graham Mertz ranks 13th among Big Ten quarterbacks in efficiency rating (103.3), two spots behind Iowa's Spencer Petras (124.3). Mertz has two touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

"They are a great example of a group that plays together," Chryst said of a Hawkeye defense leading the nation with 16 interceptions. "I think they've got enough experience and understanding; combine that with good football players. A lot of those (interceptions) come from other guys doing their part. 

"It's a confident group. And when that starts to happen, it can be dangerous." 

While Mertz and the passing game are struggling, the Badger rushing attack ranks 19th in the country (218.9 YPG, 4.64 Yards Per Carry). Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi leads the way, sitting fifth in the Big Ten with 98.9 yards per game on the ground. 

"I think they're similar. One is bigger than the other, but they're similar," Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather said. "They're definitely both downhill runners, can definitely put a move on you in space and will definitely try to run you over if they get the chance to." 

Mellusi is listed 5-11, 204 pounds. Allen checks in at 6-2, 238. 

Running the ball could be challenging for both teams. Wisconsin leads the nation in rush defense (53.5 YPG), while the Hawkeyes check in seventh (89.7). 

"We do it in different ways," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of the two defenses. "We play our style of defense. They play their style of defense. There are similarities in what we do, but there are a lot of differences. 

"I have a respect for what they do, the consistency that they do it with." 

It shapes up as a low-scoring game. Iowa ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (14.6 PPG) and the Badgers sit fifth (18.4). Perhaps a defensive score or special teams' play decides the outcome. "Hidden" yardage could be key. 

The game features two of the league's top punters in Iowa's Tory Taylor (46.2 yards per punt) and Wisconsin's Andy Vujnovich (46.3). Hawkeye kicker Caleb Shudak is 11 of 13 on field goal attempts, while Badger kicker Collin Larsh is 10 of 12. 

Iowa ranks second in kick returns (28.9 yards per return) with Wisconsin last in the league at 13.7. The Hawkeyes are fifth in punt returns (10.9), while the Badgers are 11th (4.9). 

The Hawkeyes had an extra week to prepare for this game having had a bye last week. That could be an advantage even for teams that know each other so well. 

"I could have drawn up their defense three months ago and it would have been pretty accurate, but you get more comfortable early in the week with their scheme," Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. "Now that we're practicing, I have a great idea of what I'm seeing and what kind of things we want to attack." 

TV ANNOUNCERS: Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky, Kris Budden on ESPN. 

SERIES: Saturday will be the 95th meeting between Iowa and Wisconsin. 

Through 94 games, Wisconsin leads 48-44-2. Iowa is 19-27-1 all-time in games played in Madison. Iowa is 25-20-1 all-time in games played in Iowa City. 

The Hawkeyes snapped a five-game losing skid against the Badgers in 2020, winning 28-7 in Iowa City.

BETTING LINES: The game opened with Wisconsin as a 3.0-point favorite at Vegas Insiders (VI) on Sunday. That number remained there as of Monday morning. The total was at 36.5, where it opened. 

Read More

TRENDS

-Wisconsin is 3-8 Against The Spread in its last 11 games overall.

-Badgers are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 conference games.

-Iowa is 4-0-1 ATS in its last 5 games as an underdog.

-Hawkeyes are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 road games.

WISCONSIN PLAYERS TO WATCH

-Jack Sanborn, LB – Sanborn has started all 28 games over the last 3 years and racked up 180 tackles, 20.5 TFLs, 8.0 sacks and 4 interceptions during that stretch. He led the Badgers in tackles in each of the previous two seasons and ranks second on team with 48 stops so far this year.

–Leo Chenal, LB – Chenal leads the Badgers in tackles (51), sacks (5.0) and tackles for loss (9.5) despite playing in only 5 games. He's coming off an effort at Purdue on Saturday (3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss) that earned him Big Ten defensive player of the week honors. 

-Chez Mellusi & Braelon Allen, RBs – Each member of the backfield duo has exceeded 100 yards rushing in the last two games. Mellusi totaled 308 ground yards in those contests, while Allen, a true freshman, had 271. 

KEYS TO VICTORY

Wisconsin: Limit turnovers (especially by Mertz) and contain Iowa's return game. Don't help the Hawkeye offense. 

Iowa: Find a way to run the ball and keep pressure off Petras. Win with special teams flipping the field and defensive takeaways. 

GAME NOTES

-Nationally, only No. 1 Georgia (209.1) is allowing fewer offensive yards per game than the Badgers (223.0), who have held two opponents to fewer than 100 total yards this season. UW has allowed an average of just 3.93 yards per play, 2nd-best behind Georgia (3.59)

-Wisconsin has averaged 293.0 rushing yards over its last 3 games, the highest average of any Power Five program during that stretch.

-The Badgers have held 5 of their 7 opponents this season to 50 or fewer rushing yards, the most of any FBS team.

-The Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank 3rd in the country in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert on just 26.8% of their third-down tries. UW has ranked among the FBS’ top five in lowest opponent third-down conversion rate in 5 of the last 6 seasons.

-Wisconsin has limited opponents to 1.87 yards per rushing attempt, the best mark nationally. Iowa ranks 6th nationally and 2nd-best in the Big Ten, giving up 2.73 yards per rush.

-The Hawkeyes are 23-4 in their last 27 trophy games (includes bowl games) and 20-4 in their last 24 rivalry trophy games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin).

-Iowa leads the country in interceptions (16) and takeaways (21) and ranks third in turnover margin (+15). The Hawkeyes have 80 interception since 2017, more than any team in the country. Nine different Hawkeyes have at least one interception this season.

-Hawkeye center Tyler Linderbaum was named a midseason first-team All-American by the Associated Press, Sporting News, CBS Sports, and The Athletic. Linerbaum has made 28 consecutive starts at center. Iowa is 22-6 during that span.

-Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell is tied for third in the Big Ten with 67 tackles and was named a second-team midseason All-American by The Athletic. He had a career-high 18 tackles in Iowa’s Week 4 win against Colorado State, earning B1G Defensive Player of the Week honors.

-Iowa has three wins over ranked opponents (vs. #17 Indiana, 34-6; at #9 Iowa State, 27-17; vs. #4 Penn State, 23-20) and has won six straight against ranked opponents overall. Only Alabama (9) has more consecutive wins over ranked opponents.

NOTABLE ALUMNI

Wisconsin – Agnes Moorehead

Iowa - James Hansen 

HOWE I SEE IT: I picture this game looking like 10 people crammed in a phone booth. Here's a picture of a phone booth for you young folks out there. 

It's silly to think either team will light up the scoreboard. These defenses don't bend much less break. 

Special teams and turnovers could decide it but so, too, might one of the offensive coordinators springing a surprise on the opposition. Think Iowa in the '15 Big Ten title game or a few weeks ago against Penn State. 

Will either of these conservative attacks take chances with so much riding on this game? Will they instead play a game of chicken, waiting for the other one to make a mistake? 

I would bet on the latter. Whoever falls out of the phone booth loses. I'm thinking that's the Badgers. 

PREDICTION: IOWA 16, Wisonsin 13.

Rob Howe is in his 25th year covering University of Iowa Athletics. He's worked for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Hawkeye Nation, Hawk Fanatic, Hawkeye Insider and more. Please follow @RobHoweHN on Twitter.