The Wisconsin Badgers enter Kinnick Stadium for their Big Ten opener and first road contest of the season tonight. Bouncing back off a tough loss is crucial to the Badgers, and after being written off by most of the country as national title contenders, Wisconsin will have the opportunity to make a statement in primetime vs. the Iowa Hawkeyes. There couldn’t be a bigger stage to for the team to prove itself. Here’s what the Badgers need to do to make a statement and get back on track Saturday night.
Wake Up That Offensive Line
All preseason, we heard about the Badgers’ offensive line being the best in the country, and for good reason as they returned experience and depth at nearly every position. Now after struggling somewhat in the opener against Western Kentucky and playing poorly against BYU, the national media has changed the narrative to “overrated,” which is far from the truth. The Badgers are still top 10 in rushing offense to this point. Look, they haven’t played their game this season, but this is largely the same offensive line that helped Jonathan Taylor run for almost 2,000 yards a season ago. They’re going to figure it out, water always finds its level. But now is the time to do it.
Iowa’s defensive line is legit, and it will be the biggest test this offensive unit has faced so far this season. The Iowa defense held one of the nation’s top runners in Iowa State’s David Montgomery to just 44 yards in their meeting two weeks ago. The Hawkeyes close down holes quickly and don’t allow runners to get to the second level. While I would normally say they haven’t played an offensive attack like Wisconsin’s, I haven’t seen that dominating performance out of the Badgers yet. What a time it would be to bust out on this type of stage.
Take Care of the Football
The positive was that there wasn’t a fumble lost in last Saturday’s game. The negative was there was a crucial interception thrown by Alex Hornibrook. Going into Kinnick is not an easy task. Under the lights, on national television, in your first road game, the last thing you want is to give the crowd an extra reason to cheer. Turnovers are such a crucial part of the football game, especially on the road.
With two teams battling for clock management, possessions are going to be at a premium. Both teams currently rank in the top 15 in terms of time of possession, so opportunities to score are going to be limited on each side. When you have the ball, you are going to have to take advantage of it to win this game; you can’t give it away and expect to win. If the Badgers can play clean and maybe force a turnover or two, it would go a long way in deciding who comes out on top in this physical battle for the Heartland Trophy.
Get Pressure from the Defensive Line
Look, it’s no secret that the line of scrimmage is going to be the most important facet of this football game. Each team wants to play the ground game, control the clock, and manage the field position. These two teams know each other and what they want to do very well. They’re the same style of football. Iowa-Wisconsin is basically the pointing Spiderman meme in a nutshell.
The good thing for Wisconsin is that Iowa’s ground game so far has not been as dominating as in years past. The Hawkeyes currently rank 72nd in rushing offense, which is middle-of-the-pack, but accounting for the number of carries is important. Pass-happy teams like Purdue and Arizona have had more yards on nearly half the attempts that Iowa has taken. For a team that identifies by running the football, it’s clear Iowa has struggled some up to this point and has no star rusher like in years past. If guys up front like Olive Sagapolu and Isaiahh Loudermilk can create some clogs, it should make Iowa put the weight solely on Nate Stanley and his tight ends to make plays.