One of the beautiful things about sports is that you are what your record says you are. If your team is a contender or at the very least good, the record will reflect that. Your wins — and in college football who you’ve beaten is just as important — and your losses tell the story of your team.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) the story of 2016 is not yet complete. Many — including this writer — were quick to write Iowa off after losses to FCS North Dakota State — a truly historic and terrible loss for the Hawkeyes — and a loss to a bad Northwestern team at home. Certainly the Hawkeyes College Football playoff chances were squashed because of the aforementioned failures, but over the past two weeks Iowa has breathed some life back into its season, specifically in regards to the Big Ten West.
After wins on the road against rival Minnesota and a desperate Purdue team — a win that led to the firing of Boilermakers’ head coach Darrell Hazell — Iowa finds itself No. 2 in the West only behind undefeated and No. 8 ranked Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have benefited from two Wisconsin losses in a row, and this weekend they host the Badgers (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) and can deliver the knock out punch.
Iowa can still play for the Big Ten championship this season. It certainly won’t be easy — Wisconsin lost to two very good teams and No. 3 Michigan and the Cornhuskers are still on the schedule — but at the very least the Hawkeyes can control their own destiny.
If they keep winning, making it back to Indianapolis for the second-straight year is a definite possibility. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, but after the start to this season, is any Iowa fan disappointed by the fact that the Hawks can still write their own story in 2016?
They shouldn’t be.
Let’s get back to the challenge of Wisconsin, though. Even at home, the Hawkeyes are going to be in for a tough task. The Badgers stuck with a great Michigan team, losing 14-7, and then took the second best team in the nation to overtime.
Wisconsin isn’t a typical team on a two-game losing streak. The Badgers are a team that has lost two in a row yet still finds itself ranked in the Top 10 nationally. That goes to show you how much respect this team has, and how good it really is — no matter the losing streak.
“I don’t follow them very closely, but they don’t always make sense,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of the polls earlier this week.
“What makes sense to me is when you look at film and then you look at a team’s ranking, and if they match then you can say, yeah, that makes sense. That’s not always the case.
“But these guys (Wisconsin) are playing really good football. A lot was said about their schedule preseason, heading into the season, and they’ve just taken each game one step at a time. It always hasn’t been as pretty as they probably wanted, but they’ve got a good record, and they more importantly have got a football team that really plays well, and again, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’re on the road or at home. They play good football.”
The stats back Ferentz’ point up, especially defensively.
Wisconsin’s defense is still among the best in the nation, currently ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten in total defense and No. 12 nationally, giving up 311.3 yards per game. Offensively the Badgers aren’t as scary, ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten, putting up only 375.2 yards per game, but that doesn’t mean the Badgers can’t be dangerous. Specifically, Iowa’s defense will have to focus on stopping senior running back Corey Clement, who has rushed for 483 yards and five touchdowns this season. Clement put up 164 yards on a very good Ohio State defense, which goes to show you what he brings to the table for the Badgers.
— Aaron Taylor (@AaronTaylorCFB) October 18, 2016
When it comes down to it, though, Iowa’s going to have to continue playing “its game” in order to beat that Badgers.
That means taking care of the ball on offense and really relying on the rushing attack. Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. have been great for the Hawkeyes so far this year — combining for 1,181 yards and 14 touchdowns so far this season — so Iowa needs to keep feeding the beast.
If senior quarterback C.J. Beathard can get going that’s even better for Iowa. He’s one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the Big Ten but has been a tad bit underwhelming in 2016. For instance, he didn’t throw a touchdown but threw two interceptions in the win against Minnesota. He did throw two touchdowns against Purdue, but also threw for only 140 yards. Iowa doesn’t need Beathard to put up four touchdowns and 400 yards, but getting bigger production out of him, especially against a good Wisconsin defense, would help open up some more room for the running game. If Wisconsin doesn’t fear Iowa’s passing attack, the Badgers can and will focus on shutting down the run.
Here’s the big takeaway: Perhaps Iowa is not as explosive as fans would like and the defense has not totally lived up to some high expectations, but again, Iowa is in a position to make its own destiny for the rest of 2016.
Considering the vibes surrounding this team earlier in the season, the Hawkeyes can’t really ask for much more.