The Wisconsin defense clamped down on Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers, one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten, last Saturday. This Saturday, the defense will have to clamp down on Iowa’s senior quarterback Brad Banks, perhaps the best passer in the nation who nobody talked about before the season.
After Iowa’s 34-9 thrashing of Michigan at the Big House last weekend, however, everybody’s been talking about Banks. Certainly, 222 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation’s most respected programs in one of the nation’s most hostile environments will turn some heads.
“[Banks] is a playmaker,” said UW defensive back Scott Starks. “He has good size, he has good vision, he can throw the ball well; he can also run the ball well. Basically, as a cornerback, I have to stay in coverage at all times because I don’t know how many times [Banks] has been sacked this year, but it hasn’t been a lot, so you have to stay in coverage longer.”
On the season, Banks has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 1,797 yards and 18 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. His 159.9 passer rating is tops in the Big Ten.
Banks’ passing ability doesn’t bode well for the Badgers, who have so far been fruitless in stopping some of the Big Ten’s best passers this season. Penn State’s Zack Mills threw for 287 yards against Wisconsin, while Indiana’s Gabran Hamdan, a statue of a quarterback, threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns in the Hoosiers’ upset of the Badgers.
Banks isn’t the only cog in the Iowa offensive machine, however. He’s helped out by a cast of players as relatively unknown as the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 No-Name Defense. The Hawkeyes are paced by a trio of receivers who will pose a threat for the Wisconsin secondary.
Junior Maurice Brown is the main downfield target, averaging 20.9 yards per catch and scoring six times. Senior C.J. Jones, who’s been on the receiving end of eight touchdown tosses, is the possession receiver. Perhaps the biggest receiving threat for Iowa, however, is monstrous junior tight end Dallas Clark, who goes 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds. He’s caught 28 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns.
“You can only do so much with a tight end, because you’ve got other receivers that you have to handle,” said UW defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. “Having a tight end with [Clark’s] ability is a tremendous weapon because it limits you. When normally you’d like to get two guys on another wide receiver, you can’t do that. He makes you stay balanced and stay honest in coverage.”
Iowa’s running game is equally as strong as its passing game. Junior Fred Russell leads the Hawkeye rushing attack with 925 yards and eight touchdowns. He is often relieved by sophomore Jermelle Lewis, a speed-burner who averages 6.9 yards per carry and has gotten into the end zone six times. Banks himself can take off out of the pocket, having already rushed for 258 yards and a touchdown.
Iowa presents possibly the most balanced offensive attack in the conference. In fact, the Hawkeyes have both rushed and passed for 213.9 yards per game, an uncanny balance that has been the key to their success and has kept opposing defenses on their toes.
“They do as good a job as anybody keeping people off-balance,” said Cosgrove. “You just have to try to slow them down. You have to try to keep them out of a rhythm, but they’ve been able to stay in a rhythm. They’ve been a team that’s started fast. They have a good plan (and) they do a great job of executing. We have to make sure our kids are ready.”
All told, the Hawkeyes have put up an astounding 37.8 points per game against their opponents, resulting in a first-place 5-0 record (8-1 overall) in the Big Ten. Their No. 10 national ranking is a surprise to most college football experts, who now see Iowa as the best team in the Big Ten.
But for a young Badger defense that seemed to get some legs and momentum last Saturday against Michigan State, Saturday’s game in Iowa will be a perfect opportunity to make a statement.