The Wisconsin Badgers (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) will face off against the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) in a pivotal matchup at Camp Randall Saturday. With both teams in control of their own destiny in the Big Ten West, this game is each team’s biggest test left on the schedule.
Coming off of three straight wins, the Badgers have their first chance at a top-ranked team since their 1-3 start. During this winning streak, coach Paul Chryst has placed a major emphasis on running the ball, and the backfield tandem has been able to execute. Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen have thrived with the help of the improving offensive line, rushing for an average of 293 yards over the last three games.
Iowa has a superior rush defense than any of Wisconsin’s last three opponents, allowing 89.7 yards per game on the ground, but the Badgers must find success in the running game to win. Mellusi and Allen’s execution has been vital to a one-dimensional Wisconsin offense, while eating up the clock and taking pressure off of quarterback Graham Mertz.
Though Iowa has been the better team so far in 2021, the two teams play a very similar style of football. A “ground and pound” rushing attack on offense and strong defense are the recipe for each team to win games. There are many similar aspects of these teams across the board, but one major discrepancy can play a big role Saturday.
Iowa is third in the nation with a turnover margin of 11. Taking the ball away from opponents with high volume, the Hawkeyes have 16 interceptions and 20 total turnovers so far this season. The Badgers ball security has been a weak spot for them as they are on the other end of the spectrum with turnover margin. Iowa will be lurking for any loose ball or misplaced throw to gain an edge.
Wisconsin’s top defense will look to squash any chances of losing the turnover battle with some of their own. Just a week ago they were able to force five turnovers on the road against Purdue, leading the Badgers to a 30-13 win. The Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal-led defense will look to do much of the same against Iowa, giving the offense extra opportunities and a shorter field.
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The plan of attack will not look much different for Wisconsin this week. Mellusi and Allen will each see double-digit carries to get the Badgers offense going. Their execution has a huge impact on the Badgers, and both will need to be careful with the ball against a stingy defense.
The Wisconsin defense has been consistent all season and the same could be expected as long as they are not left out to dry with Iowa getting extra possessions. The offense and defense each have to play their part to help each other out and earn a win.
With Wisconsin’s Big Ten Championship game hopes in the air, expect a low-scoring and physical game at Camp Randall. Each team will try to assert their run game with heavy carries in a classic Big Ten matchup.
In a close, low-scoring game it typically comes down to one or two game-changing plays. The team that makes those plays Saturday will earn the win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 17