1) Get the defense back on track: After giving up only 82 points in its first 9 games (a 9.1 point per game average), the Badger defense was torched for 49 points by the Spartan attack last Saturday. In addition, after giving up 100 yards to a running back just once in nine games (Northwestern’s Noah Herron), the Badgers gave up 100 yards to two backs in the same game. Michigan State’s Jehuu Caulcrick and Jason Teague rushed for 146 and 112 yards, respectively, against UW’s once-vaunted rushing defense. The defense was shredded for 430 yards, in all, on only 44 carries, an astounding 9.8-yards per carry for the Spartans. Saturday’s awful performance has left many UW fans with an unsettling question: will the real Badger defense please stand up?
2) Convert on 3rd down: Against Minnesota, the Badger offense looked unstoppable — converting an out-of—this-world 65 percent (11 of 17) of its third down opportunities. Saturday, sophomore quarterback John Stocco and company came crashing back to earth, converting on an embarrassing 35 percent (six of 17) of its third down opportunities. Many drives against Michigan State stalled because of third down miscues, and many of the failed conversions were from five yards or less. If UW wants to beat the Hawkeyes, its conversion rate has to improve.
3) Stop the pass: Iowa has been devastated by injuries to its rushing corps this year, and, as a result, the running game is not a high priority for coach Kirk Ferentz. Sophomore quarterback Drew Tate leads the Hawkeye aerial attack and is among the Big Ten leaders with 2,313 yards and a 130.4 passer rating. After yielding three touchdown passes last weekend to Drew Stanton and company, the Badger secondary will have to be ready for anything. Senior safety Jim Leonhard, who had perhaps his worst showing as a Badger against the Spartans, will need to constantly be aware of Tate’s position on the field as Tate aims to connect with his favorite receivers, juniors Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel.
4) Don’t watch the scoreboard: With National Championship aspirations destroyed last weekend in East Lansing, the Badgers will not be under as much pressure to perform this week against the Hawkeyes. A Michigan loss and a Badger win would put UW in the Rose Bowl, but Ohio State is the only team that can beat Michigan and the Wisconsin is the only team that can beat Iowa. If the Badgers worry about a game that’s out of their control, they’ll likely have a great deal of trouble dealing with the very good team they actually get to play. The Hawkeyes are currently ranked 17th in the nation and have won six straight games since their Sept. 25 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The only time the Badgers should be scoreboard watchers is when the final gun sounds against the Hawkeyes.
5) Make Michigan State a motivation: Kinnick Stadium is never an easy place to play, and Iowa has won 18 straight games there. Its cozy surroundings create an intimidating atmosphere for opponents. Alvarez needs to look for any type of motivation possible for his players — and last week’s drubbing is a good place to start. Players do not forget a 49-14 defeat to a team they were supposed to handle. Alvarez should stress that the players are the only ones who can avoid the emptiness of defeat this weekend. With a win this week, regardless of the outcome in the Michigan game, UW can salvage an outstanding season.