Wisconsin plays a very similar style of football to the Hawkeyes’ brand, but they have been much more effective at it this season. The number of similarities makes it feel like Iowa is Wisconsin in costume for a Halloween party, or vice versa. It goes beyond the schemes all the way to the personnel.
Both offenses are predicated on running the football to set up big gains through the air on play action and controlling time of possession. Both defenses are schemes that are designed to be zone-heavy and first limit the big plays by the opposition, forcing the offense to drive the length of the field and establishing a wall behind the line of scrimmage in an attempt to suffocate the running game and make the play-calling one dimensional.
The Badgers’ Melvin Gordon and the Hawkeyes’ Mark Weisman are the two running backs that their respective offenses revolve around. In both cases, if the opposing defense can contain either Gordon or Weisman, that team’s offense becomes quite limited. Both Iowa and Wisconsin have capable change-of-pace backs in Damon Bullock and James White as well.
For both the Badgers and Hawkeyes, the receiving corps is pretty much all about one guy. Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis and Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley lead their teams in both receptions and receiving yards. Key to slowing down the vertical passing game when these offenses do put the ball in the air is devoting the best coverage to these receivers.
Both defenses are led by star linebackers — James Morris for the Hawkeyes and Chris Borland for the Badgers. Look for both of these guys’ names to be called a lot on Saturday in regards to making tackles and perhaps a turnover. While the style of play and personnel for these teams are similar, the execution has been heavily in favor of Wisconsin.
Weisman has rushed for 732 yards, far behind Gordon’s 1,012. Martin-Manley’s 32 catches for 276 yards come up short in comparison to Abbrederis’ 752 yards on 43 catches. Wisconsin ranks 11th in the nation in total offense and 16th in scoring offense. Iowa comes in at 74th and 79th in those categories. The Wisconsin defense is ranked seventh and Iowa’s is ranked 12th.
The series between these schools currently sits at 42-42-2. The Badgers’ superior athleticism at several spots will be the difference in this game and give them an edge in the series, as Wisconsin will return to Madison with a 34-20 victory over the Hawkeyes.