MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 30: Spencer Petras #7 of the Iowa Hawkeyes scores a touchdown during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 27-7. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Football: 3 Key matchups to watch for against Iowa

Wisconsin Football: 3 Key matchups to watch for against Iowa

It’s trophy season for Wisconsin football, baby. Up first for the Badgers is the battle for the Heartland Trophy against Iowa (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten). The Badgers lead the trophy series 10-6 while leading the all-time series 49-44-2.

There have been many murmurs that Wisconsin and Iowa both feature arguably some of the most boring offensive schemes in the country. Some people think neither offense will score in this game. Maybe a safety will be the deciding factor. Perhaps this game ends in a total under of 10 points. Or maybe Jim Leonhard rolls his All-The-Way-Back defense into Iowa City and ruins Iowa’s black-out game.

Iowa is at the bottom, or very near it, in most major offensive categories. Of the 14 Big Ten teams, Iowa is 14th in Yards per game – 13th in passing yards per game – 12th in rushing yards per game – and 13th in points per game. That is not ideal.

Like Wisconsin, however, Iowa has been on a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to play type. Even with the poor offensive statistics, the Hawkeyes average 23.6 points per game in their five wins – as opposed to 9.25 points in their four losses. Both teams are on a 2-game win streak, and both teams have scored 55+ combined points in their last two games. Both teams beat Purdue.

So how does Wisconsin keep the positive momentum going to beat a streaking Iowa team that is gaining confidence on offense?

Badgers QB Graham Mertz vs. Turnovers

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during a time out against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on December 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Badgers defeated the Sun Devils 20-13. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Yes, I know I’m re-using a key from last week. But I’d argue that Graham Mertz not turning the ball over is the key to the entire Badgers season.

Mertz, unfortunately, had his worst QBR performance of the season against Maryland. However, Mertz turned the ball over zero times. In the life of a game-managing QB, that’s a win. Of his five completed passes, two were on scoring drives that ended in 10 points. That’s my spin zone, at least.

Iowa is going to make Mertz beat them. Graham will need to push the ball downfield while also being smart and not turning the ball over. The Kansas native has shown he can be effective even if he doesn’t have his A game – if he isn’t turning the ball over.

Badgers Front Seven vs. Iowa Run Game

I don’t think Wisconsin is incredibly worried about the Iowa passing game. Spencer Petras has a career 56.7% completion percentage, and he has eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark eight times in 29 games that he’s seen extended game action.

Petras also boasts a 1:1 TD to INT-ratio, leading me to my point that Iowa wants to run the ball. In the last two wins for Iowa, they have rushed for 178 and 184 yards. In Wisconsin’s previous two wins, they have held opponents to 111 yards and 112 yards rushing. If the front 7 for Wisconsin can stop the run and limit Iowa’s 3rd and short opportunities -I believe the Badgers have an excellent chance to win the ball game.

Badgers PR Dean Ingram vs. Hawkeyes Punter Tory Taylor

Yes, you read that correctly. I believe a key to the game will be how effective Dean Ingram can be in returning punts, catching punts, and helping manage the field position.

It’s no secret that Tory Taylor has been an absolute weapon for the Hawkeyes. There is a good chance Taylor is the runaway Ray Guy winner this year. Last week vs. Purdue, Taylor averaged 51.8 yards per punt and had a career-long 70-yard punt.

Dean Ingram must do everything he can to catch punts outside the 10-yard line. While being conscious that Taylor only has 10 touchbacks in 55 punts this year. The Badgers are going to force the Hawkeyes to punt the ball – both teams will be jockeying for field position all game.

If the Badgers can win the field position battle, that will help their offense and defense.

Outlining the Wisconsin Badgers path to a Big Ten West title

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