Hawkeyes, Badgers meet for de facto Big Ten West elimination game
Wisconsin has been waiting a while to get back in the win column, which makes this a dangerous spot for Iowa this weekend. The Badgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) took losses in each of their last two games, getting upset at Illinois and then blown out at Ohio State before their bye week last week. Will getting back to Camp Randall Stadium help Wisconsin get back into a groove?
For either team to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive, a win this weekend is essential. Both Wisconsin and Iowa (6-2, 3-2) trail Minnesota by two games in the Big Ten West entering Week 11. The defense will be the theme of the day between these two programs, so don't count on a lot of scoring. That leaves a small margin for error with the division race getting tighter by the week.
Iowa at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -9.5
When Iowa Has the Ball
Nate Stanley hasn't had great performances against the top defenses he has faced this season, and Wisconsin won't give him much time to process the field either. Stanley is also coming off a rough performance against Northwestern that saw him complete just 12-of-26 pass attempts against a one-win Wildcats squad. Looking for a rebound in Madison is not an easy task, so Stanley, a Wisconsin native, will have to get some help from the Iowa running game.
Unfortunately, running back Mekhi Sargent has also struggled to get going against the top defenses Iowa has seen, and the Badgers aren't a team that gives up much on the ground. Sargent hasn't rushed for more than 68 yards since late September.
If this is a game to be won by either defense, then Wisconsin likely has the edge with one of the top defensive units in the Big Ten West. The last couple of games have seen the cracks in that defense, but Iowa doesn't have the firepower of an Ohio State.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
It's no secret what makes Wisconsin's offense tick. Jonathan Taylor remains one of the top running backs in the Big Ten, but he has been held to fewer than 100 rushing yards in two of the last three games and was held without a touchdown last week by Ohio State. Taylor tends to up big yards in spurts, but if Iowa's defense can manage to avoid letting Taylor run wild, then the Hawkeyes can put the game in the hands of Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan.
And that's exactly what Iowa needs to do. If Wisconsin has to rely on Coan to deliver a win, then the Badgers could be in some real trouble. Coan failed to get much production through the air against Ohio State a week after tossing a game-changing interception in the surprising loss to Illinois. Pass rusher A.J. Epenesa will have to break through the Wisconsin line to force Coan to react under pressure.
While Wisconsin hit some speed bumps in its last two games, Iowa has gotten its season back on track after its own back-to-back losses. Iowa may have been playing some better overall football than the Badgers, but Wisconsin plays better at home. Iowa has also really struggled to score points against top defenses like Penn State and Michigan. Wisconsin's defense will play with some pride and lead the Badgers to a much-needed win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Iowa 16
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.