Iowa Football Notebook: Hawkeyes Loading Up for Wisconsin Attack
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With two weeks of preparation for Saturday’s rivalry game at Wisconsin, Iowa players and coaches dove deep into film study. They paid close attention to what Illinois and Ohio State employed in knocking off the Badgers in their last two games.
Those outfits loaded the box in order to slow down Wisconsin’s vaunted running game. It worked.
It rushed a combined 77 times for 239 yards (3.1 YPC) in those contests. All-American running back Jonathan Taylor carried the ball 48 times for 185 yards (3.9 YPC).
“Ohio State was getting four linebackers in there to stack the box, stopping the run and forcing them into long, passing-down situations. That’s something we’d like to replicate, to get them in situations that they’re not necessarily as comfortable in,” Iowa safety Jack Koerner said.
The Hawkeyes would be more likely to move a safety down into the box than add an extra linebacker to the mix. That would create an adjustment on the outside.
“That means that we’re basically going to be on an island,” cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “Ohio State didn’t shy away from that and you can see that putting extra guys in the box really neutralized Taylor. If we can do that and we can hold our own on third and long, passing situations, we have an edge if we put more guys in the box.”
Wisconsin does feature threats in the passing game. Receiver Quintez Cephus comes into Saturday with 27 receptions for 410 yards and three scores. Tight end Jake Ferguson (21-247-2) is one of the Big Ten’s best at his position. And the running backs are involved in the air attack.
“Their tight end is really good. He’s a really big, physical guy,” Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “And they did beat us on a passing play at the end of the game last year, too.
“We realize they can throw the ball when they need to, but we know they want to run the ball by all means. They want to get the ball on the ground and run it all game. We want to try to force them into those passing situations, and when we do, win that down.”
The Badgers drove the field at the end of last season’s 28-17 victory in Iowa City. The winning score came on a touchdown pass to receiver A.J. Taylor, who was being defended by linebacker Nick Niemann. It led to the Hawkeyes adding a 4-2-5 look on defense, what’s become known as Cash.
The key for Iowa this season might be adjusting personnel based on what Wisconsin shows it. It seems better equipped to handle that this year with added depth in the secondary and at linebacker.
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“We’ll probably be in our 40 (base) defense a lot this week just because we want to protect against that run game. But (Cash) Dane (Belton) will be ready, too, because they will go out in trip formations. We’ll need him. We’ll use both of them this week,” Colbert said.
OFFENSIVE OUTLOOK: On the other side of the ball, communication is key. Wisconsin’s aggressive, 3-4 defense brings linebacker pressure from all over the formation. Iowa must identify and react.
Quarterback Nate Stanley seemed confident that he and his teammates have noticed things on film that will allow them to do that.
“There are tips that come from film study. If you have an idea of what’s going to come before it happens, it allows you to communicate faster. It’s just continuing to study tape and then communicate out on the field,” he said.
Iowa struggled with that two years ago in Madison. The Badgers worked over the inside of Iowa’s line, including center James Daniels, who’s now starting for the Chicago Bears.
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That responsibility falls to redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum on Saturday. The first-year starting center is tasked with identifying Wisconsin’s tells. Think of it like a game of poker.
“Every team has a tell. It comes down to blocking and if you can execute. Execution is going to have to be a key, and we’re going to have to have all 11 guys on the field doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I have trust in every one of them, and I think we can get the job done,” Linderbaum said.
INJURY REPORT: Iowa receives a boost up front with offensive guard Kyler Schott returning to practice this week. Coach Ferentz indicated that the sophomore has looked good after missing the last five games with a leg injury.
The news wasn’t as promising for linebacker Kristian Welch (stinger) and tight end Nate Wieting (undisclosed). They’ve been very limited in practice and were listed doubtful for Saturday.
“We were hoping to get Welch and Wieting back. Right now they haven’t done much so far, so I’m not optimistic we’ll have those guys as the game gets closer,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
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Receiver Brandon Smith will miss a second game in a row after suffering an ankle injury against Purdue on Oct. 19.
“His rehab is going well, but I don’t know what that means exactly. It’s an ankle injury, and it’s going to take some time. Just one of those shots,” Ferentz said.
The junior from Mississippi leads Iowa with 33 receptions and touchdown catches (4). He ranks second with 407 receiving yards.
FRESH FACE: With Wieting missing Iowa’s last game, true freshman Sam LaPorta stepped in during a 20-0 victory on Oct. 26 at Northwestern. He caught two passes for 43 yards, and just missed another long reception. He gave his team a dynamic threat in the passing game at a tight end position lacking it this season.
He’s picked up more premium reps during the bye week as Wieting remained sidelined.
“I’m not sure Sam knows what the heck is going on anyway, so it’s just as well. I’m joking about that, he’s doing okay. We’ve got his head spinning a little bit, but he’s doing a good job,” Ferentz said.
EXTRA POINTS: Nate Stanley, Toren Young, Kristian Welch and Brady Ross will be Iowa’s captains this week…Ferentz has 94 Big Ten Conference wins, one shy of tying Joe Paterno for No. 5 all-time in conference history…Hawkeye kicker Keith Duncan is tied for first in the country with 19 field goals made…The Badgers have beaten Iowa three times in a row and won six of the last seven meetings in the rivalry.
HawkeyeNation.com’s Rob Howe has covered Iowa Hawkeye sports for 23 years and began working at HawkeyeNation.com in 2003. Please follow @RobHoweHN and @HawkeyeNationHQ on Twitter.