Wisconsin's (2-2) offense has completely disappeared, scoring just 13 points combined in back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Indiana. Th defense remains stout, ranking at or near the top in numerous statistical categories, but the ultra-conservative approach on offense that's led to multiple Big Ten Championship Game appearances in the past simply isn't working.
As for the Hawkeyes (5-2), the 2020 season has turned around drastically since their 0-2 start to begin the year. Kirk Ferentz's team has rattled off five consecutive victories playing typical Iowa football — sound defense, running the ball effectively, and great special teams.
With an over/under currently set at 41.5, I think we can all predict what type of game to expect if tuning into this matchup on Saturday.
Wisconsin at No. 16 Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -1
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Defensively, there have been very few issues for Wisconsin. It's a different story for the offense, which managed a total of six points in last week's home loss to Indiana. Those 49 points put up against Michigan in mid-November feel like a distant memory at this point.
Injuries have contributed to the lack of success in the passing game, with senior wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor missing time, but Graham Mertz does not look like the quarterback threw five touchdown passes in the opener against Illinois. The redshirt freshman has completed less than 59 percent of his passes in each of the last three games with more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) in that span as well. And this probably not the best week to try and fix those issues with the weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in Iowa City not looking favorable, along with a matchup against an Iowa pass defense that is allowing just 211 yards per game through the air.
One bright spot for the Badgers on offense of late has been the play of true freshman running back Jalen Berger, who has emerged as the team's best option the last three weeks. His numbers aren't eye-popping, but Berger is averaging just under six yards a carry in the last three games. He needs to get more touches although yards will probably be tough come to by against the nation's No. 18-ranked run defense.
When Iowa Has the Ball
We know what to expect here. The combo of running backs Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent will run the ball 30-plus times behind an offensive line that ranks sixth nationally in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus. The Hawkeyes will limit turnovers — ninth in the country in turnover margin — and not put quarterback Spencer Petras in uncomfortable situations. For his part, the sophomore will play sound, unspectacular football that may seem boring at times, but is usually effective. It's the same recipe as it has always been under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
One wrinkle that could give this Wisconsin defense a different look — the Hawkeyes have been getting some of the receivers involved in the running game. Senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette and slot-man Tyrone Tracy Jr. combined for 65 rushing yards and a TD last week against Illinois. This helps take some of the pressure off of Goodson, second in the Big Ten with 656 rushing yards, who has become the focal point for defensive game plans.
The Badgers' defense has remained stout under coordinator Jim Leonhard. They are fist in the country in total defense (229 ypg) by a considerable margin, second in scoring (12.3 ppg), and No. 1 overall against both the run and pass. A smaller sample size (four games) than some teams certainly helps, but this Badgers D is the real deal and will look to put pressure on the young Petras and force him to try to beat them with his arm.
The week began with Iowa as 2.5-point favorites and that line has swung over to the Badgers by early Wednesday. The over/under also has dropped from 44 to just 41.5 as wintry conditions are expected on Saturday afternoon, along with 17 to 18 MPH winds. With less-than-ideal conditions and two of the best defenses in the Big Ten on tap, it's safe to assume this game won't be a shootout. The Hawkeyes win a close one at home as they're playing just a bit better on both sides of the ball right now.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Wisconsin 17
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.