IOWA CITY, Ia. – There are 120 players on the Iowa football roster. No one has beaten Wisconsin.
That should be enough of an incentive for the Hawkeyes (5-2) to enter their regular season final on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“It’s definitely added motivation,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, “that none of us have held the Heartland Trophy.”
Streaks are meant to be broken, of course, but they’re often difficult to break for a reason.
Just ask Minnesota, who have tried unsuccessfully to earn the right to lift the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy each of the past six seasons.
Or Nebraska, which has moved closer in the past three years against Iowa but is 0-6 in the Heroes Trophy battle since 2015.
Or Illinois, which lost Saturday for the seventh time in a row to Iowa.
Futility races can be hard to break. Wisconsin recently had Iowa’s number one, especially at Kinnick – where they’ve won five in a row, dating to the thriller 31-30 (or Heartbreaker, depending on your perspective) in 2010.
“We’ve had some great games over the years,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who was 6-2 against the Badgers between 2002 and 2009 but has been 1-7 since. . “I know from experience: if you want to beat them, you have to beat them. It is not easy. We have to play our absolute best game.
There’s been a lot of good vibes going into this season for Iowa after the 0-2 start. The five-game winning streak produced some of the best complementary football of the Ferentz era. The Hawkeyes are averaging 37.2 points in their 5-0 streak; the stingy defense continued a remarkable streak of 21 straight games allowing less than 25 points; and the special teams are among the best in the country.
A win over Wisconsin, and the Hawkeyes will have broken through against two programs that have dominated them over the past decade. A 41-21 win at Penn State on Nov. 21 marked a six-game losing streak, dating back to 2011.
But if Iowa loses to Wisconsin… it’s going to be like a missed opportunity and the same old, same old. And he won’t have another chance against the Badgers until November 27, 2021.
Iowa wins if …
Here are three keys to winning Iowa. (Last week, he completed 3-for-3 defeating Illinois, 35-21.)
# 1: Average of 4.0 yards per carry. My previous Iowa-Wisconsin preview column was all about the importance of precipitate totals. The team with the most rushing yards has been the winner on the scoreboard for the past decade. Going further, the last time a team won the Iowa-Wisconsin game with fewer ground attempts was in 2003 – when Nathan Chandler and the Hawkeyes eluded Madison with a 27-21 victory. Picking up 4.0 per carry won’t be easy for Iowa against a rushed Wisconsin defense leading the country (at 72.3 yards per game), but it will be necessary to develop the commitment needed for the race. Don’t be afraid to lean on the Wildcat offense led by Tyler Goodson to create racing game advantages.
N ° 2: Start a new sequence of interceptions. The Hawkeye defense’s 12-game streak with one interception turned into two back-to-back games without one. Part of it has been a by-product of facing race-oriented quarterbacks. But Phil Parker’s defense will try to put the game on Graham Mertz’s shoulders. The talented Wisconsin quarterback looked unstoppable in Game 1, going 20-for-21 against Illinois with five touchdowns. But he’s not the same since he contracted COVID-19. Drawing inspiration from the last two defenses Mertz faced, Northwestern and Indiana were able to disrupt him and force bad decisions. Mertz spat the ball four times against the Wildcats in a 17-7 loss; he was responsible for two turnovers (an interception, a sack-fumble in the first quarter) in the 14-6 loss to Indiana.
N ° 3: Victory in the red zone. One of the most remarkable statistics of the Wisconsin defense is that only six opposing practices have entered inside their 20-yard line. And only four of those records resulted in points. Iowa have converted 23 touchdowns and eight field goals in 34 red zone trips this season, a testament to their running game. But how can Iowa get around Wisconsin’s stingy red zone defense? Hit a home run. Petras is tied for the Big Ten in passing attempts, but has yet to hit a long touchdown shot. It would be the perfect time for its premiere.
Wisconsin wins if …
The Badgers are off to a good start. With three games canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, they have struggled to find a rhythm since the dynamic opening. Wisconsin unusually committed 16 penalties and seven turnovers in losses to Northwestern and Indiana. The Badgers may already feel like it’s a lost season internally, but if they can score a first success at Kinnick Stadium – against an Iowa side that outscored their opponents in the first half , 136-62 – they might find the confidence they need to get back to their usual form.
NO. 25 WISCONSIN (2-2) at NO. 18 IOWA (5-2)
Time, television: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports 1
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 2
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 19 … Iowa opened as a 3-point favorite, but expected snow conditions prompted punters to flock to the Badgers. Current program trajectories lean towards Iowa, analyzes still lean towards Wisconsin. The Badgers coaching staff always seem to be ready for whatever the Hawkeyes throw at them.
The other Big Ten games on Saturday (Central times)
The Ohio State-Michigan and Indiana-Purdue cancellations for COVID-19 issues leave us with five Big Ten games on Saturday, with the league’s “Champions Week” in complete limbo.
Illinois (2-4) to Northwest No. 14 (5-1)
Time, television: 11 a.m., ESPN2
Vegas says: Northwest by 14½
Leistikow says: Illinois coach Lovie Smith says to “show up on Saturday, and you’ll see” who he starts quarterback between Brandon Peters (who was benched against Iowa) or Isaiah Williams. Northwestern needs a solid performance to enter next week’s Big Ten Championship Game after a flat loss to Michigan State.
Northwest 24, Illinois 14
Minnesota (2-4) at Nebraska (2-4)
Time, television: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas says: Nebraska by 10½
Leistikow says: The Gophers haven’t played since November 20 after COVID-19 issues in their schedule and now star wide receiver Rashod Bateman has stepped down for the season. The Cornhuskers are inspired by quarterback Adrian Martinez and would like to redeem last year’s 34-7 loss to Minnesota.
Nebraska 31, Minnesota 24
Rutgers (2-5) at Maryland (2-2)
Time, television: 11am, BTN
Vegas says: Maryland by 8
Leistikow says: Playing football would be a victory for Maryland, which has only played one game since Nov. 7 – a 27-11 loss to Indiana. The Terrapins should be able to move the soccer ball; if they don’t return the ball, they should sail.
Maryland 35, Rutgers 21
Michigan State (2-4) to Penn State (2-5)
Time, television: 11 a.m., ABC
Vegas says: Penn State by 15
Leistikow says: The Unpredictable Spartans have the Big Ten’s worst offense, and the Penn State defense has been stingy in a two-game winning streak (12.0 points per game allowed).
Penn State 34, Michigan State 10
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow covered the sport for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.