Battle in the Heartland: Wisconsin at Iowa
Oct. 14, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa football team will try to keep Wisconsin from duplicating a feat the Hawkeyes accomplished three days ago at Indiana. It was then that Iowa rolled to 422 yards and was a plus-2 in the turnover category while halting a three-game losing streak.
Wisconsin is currently saddled with three losses in a row. The Heartland Trophy is at stake when the Badgers arrive at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday with an 11 a.m. kickoff. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
"Obviously we've got a big challenge this week," Ferentz said. "We're playing a very good football team. They're very talented. They're coming off a tough portion of their schedule, but don't let what's happened the last couple weeks fool you. This is an excellent team coming in."
Iowa hasn't had possession of the traveling trophy since a 20-10 victory at Madison in 2005. But even Iowa's modest one-game winning streak looks good compared to what Wisconsin has endured of late. The Hawkeyes are 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten Conference. Wisconsin is 3-3, 0-3 -- with consecutive league losses to unranked Michigan (27-25), No. 12 Ohio State (20-17) and No. 6 Penn State (48-7).
The Iowa-Wisconsin series is one of the closest in Big Ten history. The teams have met 83 times with the Badgers holding a slight 41-40-2 edge. Iowa leads 23-15-1 in Iowa City.
Wisconsin features a balanced offensive attack, averaging 200.2 yards per game on the ground and 182 through the air. The running back combination of P.J. Hill (95.0 yards per game), John Clay (50.5) and Zach Brown (30.8) account for nearly 90 percent of the rushing total. Quarterback Allan Evridge has completed 53.8 percent of his passes for 949 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Twelve different Badger receivers have hauled in catches this season, led by Travis Beckum with 17 for 207 yards.
"Choose your poison because you start with Beckum in the passing game," Ferentz said. "I don't know if we've defended him very well career-wise, nor have many other people. The guy is really an excellent football player. (Receiver/return specialist David) Gilreath is a great speed player and a big-time player. (Receiver Kyle) Jefferson has good size and he can run. It gets down to playing good defense again because these guys are very strong, very experienced, very big up front and both of their running backs would probably be playing center or guard for us, they're so big. Clay and Hill are both big, big strong guys."
It might come as a surprise to some that in Iowa's balanced offensive set this season, the Hawkeyes have actually had more yards throwing (1,399) than rushing (1,309). The most obvious headliner when the Hawkeyes have the ball is running back Shonn Greene. Greene ranks second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in rushing and is the only player in the country with seven consecutive 100-yard ground performances this season. He has carried the ball 152 times for 937 yards and six touchdowns. During the first two Big Ten games (Northwestern and Michigan State), Greene rushed 51 times for 316 yards and a score (6.2 yards per carry).
"I know he's playing pretty well for Iowa and I'm happy about that," Ferentz said. "He's not playing pretty well, he's playing very well."
For the most part, Ferentz's weekly Tuesday press conference was uneventful. There were no questions about facing former Hawkeye defensive tackle Bret Bielema, who is in his third season as head coach of the Badgers (24-8 record). For the second consecutive week, Ferentz explained his policy of making his assistant coaches off-limits to the media during the regular season. Actually, defensive coordinator Norm Parker and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe are expected to hold press conferences during Iowa's bye week (tentatively set for Friday, Oct. 24).
"Not at all on my criteria list (for hiring assistant coaches) is media savvy," Ferentz said. "But that being said, Norm and Ken would do a far better job at these Tuesday's with the media outings than I would. I promise you would enjoy those guys a lot more."
During Iowa's three-game losing skid, Ferentz said the Hawkeyes were improving, but fell short in some crucial areas.
"I wasn't discouraged at all with our football team," Ferentz said. "I was disappointed, but all of us were. When you're in competitive play, it gets down to the things that get you beat -- turnovers, special teams, penalties. It's very cliché, but most clichés are pretty true, and certainly true in football."
The good news for Hawkeye fans is that Ferentz sees continued improvement from his team on a weekly basis.
"Outside of turnovers, I think this team has been improving," he said. "We've been a fun team to be around. Part of being a fun team is practicing the way you're supposed to practice and coming on the field focused, prepared and energetic. These guys have really done a nice job."
Ferentz said that sophomore linebacker Troy Johnson would not play Saturday and he doubted if senior tight end Tony Moeaki would be ready as well. UI team captains will be seniors Rob Bruggeman, Mitch King and Matt Kroul and Greene.