Outside of Iowa City and Madison, few could have seen this game as a Big Game at the beginning of the season. But here we are, six weeks into the college football season, and the Iowa Hawkeyes stand at the top of the Big Ten at 6-0 with the Wisconsin Badgers right on their heels at 5-1. This Saturday, Iowa and Wisconsin will meet in Madison in what could be a determining factor in the Big Ten title race.
To many, Iowa's season has been seen as quite a mystery—but to Hawkeye fans—it seems normal. The Hawkeyes have looked like a national championship caliber team in some games and have some big wins over Penn State in Happy Valley and at home against Michigan. But the Hawkeyes have had two close calls at home against less than impressive opponents such as Arkansas State and Northern Iowa. But 6-0 is 6-0, and regardless of how they are getting it done, the Hawkeyes are putting together a very impressive season.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has put together a pretty impressive season themselves. While the marquee win isn't there, as it is for the Hawkeyes, the Badgers have been much better than expected.
Scott Tolzien has emerged as a very successful quarterback and John Clay has done a great job running the ball. Wisconsin faltered last week in Columbus and raised a few questions about their team. Before that game, the Badgers were largely untested, and it showed as Clay wasn't himself and Tolzien threw three interceptions. And things won't get any easier against Iowa's defense. So were Wisconsin's early wins due to playing cupcakes, or is their 5-1 record legitimate? We'll find out on Saturday.
Iowa will win if...Most of Iowa's wins this season have come largely in part to their defense. This game should be no different, and while quarterback Ricky Stanzi needs to perform well, the defense will be the deciding factor in this game.
The Hawkeyes need to make Wisconsin one dimensional on offense. Shutting down the run game seems to be the best way to do so—as it forces Scott Tolzien to throw—and he hasn't done that well under pressure this season.
But how will they do that after a mediocre day against Michigan's Brandon Minor? The main reason for Minor's success was the Hawkeyes chose the greater of two evils and focused on Forcier. It worked, as Forcier finished 8-of-19 with 94 yards, a fumble, and an interception. Moreover, Iowa won the game. With so much focus placed on Forcier, Minor was basically left alone.
But against Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes will be sure to put their focus on Clay. When Iowa's run game is on, it is brilliant, as we saw against Penn State, and that will force Wisconsin to throw.
When Ohio State took away the run game, Tolzien was force to throw and made some poor decisions. Iowa's opportunistic defense (second in the country in turnovers gained) will capitalize on these mistakes and cause Wisconsin to be in for a long day defensively.
Wisconsin will win if...Unlike most of the Big Ten, Wisconsin's offense, not its defense, has been its storyline this season. John Clay has emerged as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten and quarterback Scott Tolzien has been a pleasant surprise.
While the passing game has been important, the running game has carried this team. Last week, Clay was shut down, and so was the Wisconsin offense. He is in for another big challenge against Iowa and must carry the Badgers' offense on his shoulders if Wisconsin wants any chance to win.
The Iowa run defense is one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and the defensive line is always ready for big games. One individual match-up to look for is Clay vs. Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. A battle between one of the Big Ten's best running backs and one of the conference's best defensive linemen, it should be a great match-up.
The bottom line is that Clay needs to produce if Wisconsin wants to have a shot at winning this game. If he does, he will put his team in a great position to win. If not, the Badgers could be in for a long day come Saturday.
What will happen: Iowa always seems to play to the level of their opponents. And while the sometimes play poorly against lesser teams, they're always ready for big games.
As it did in Happy Valley, the Iowa defense will come ready to play. They will hold John Clay under 80 yards and intercept Scott Tolzien at least twice. The Badgers will have their chances to come back in this game, but they will have to settle for field goals against Iowa's impressive red zone defense.
On the Iowa side, Ricky Stanzi will finally play his first complete game of the season. After doing so minus the first pass against Michigan, this will be the game he proves to the conference he's for real. While he won't turn in a Tim Tebow type performance, he will go a whole game without throwing an interception and will help to lead Iowa to victory.
It will be a very exciting game, but at the end of the day, Iowa will come out of Madison with a win and a 7-0 record.
Score: Iowa 30, Wisconsin 19
Check out Carl Stine's Iowa-Wisconsin Creature vs. Creature article.