Out for a fight: Badgers, Hawkeyes to throw down
MADISON—Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has spent the bulk of the season devising sub packages to contend with a variety of spread offenses.
All that experience—and success—probably won't be worth much this week when UW (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) faces host Iowa (5-3, 2-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Hawkeyes, much like UW, routinely feature multiple tight ends to complement a power running game and then hope to catch the opponent napping with play-action passes.
“They're going to run, run, run and then take shots,” Aranda said, “very much like our people.”
The Badgers are No. 4 nationally in rushing defense (87.6 ypg). However, will UW, which featured a 3-3-5 base against Ohio State, Northwestern and Illinois, be able to avoid getting run over by Iowa's power running game?
“I think we are built for something like that,” Aranda said. “I think we've got the people to play that kind of style. Now with that being said, Iowa is far and away the most physical team we will have faced.
“Their offensive line is dominant. Their running backs are grinders. The quarterback makes good decisions.
“They are a very physical team. That is a scary team to look at.”
Iowa's running game was pitiful last season.
The Hawkeyes averaged 123.0 rushing yards per game, the No. 12 mark in the Big Ten. The team's per carry average was just 3.7 yards, and the Hawkeyes had just 15 rushing touchdowns, 23 fewer than league-leading UW.
Iowa this season is averaging 188.9 rushing yards per game, the No. 6 mark in the league, and has 10 rushing touchdowns with four regular-season games left.
Tailbacks Mark Weisman (4.9 yards per carry, 91.5 yards per game) and Damon Bullock (4.0/45.5) form a solid tandem. Neither runner is a threat to score on any play, but both are physical, north-south runners who break tackles.
“They are tough, physical backs,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “They like contact. That is one of the first things you see. When they get to the next level … they're going to force you to make a play—whether it is in the open field or whether it is in close quarters—with punishing runs.
“Best way to sum them up … when you think they get 4 or 5 yards you hop up and they get 7 or 8 or 9. And if you think they get 1 or 2 it seems like they get 3 or 4. That is exactly what Iowa's backs have done.
“And they have a tremendous supporting cast also with the tight ends, and I know the quarterback is highly involved in the check game.”
Iowa's line, led by left tackle Brandon Scherff, is very physical and technically sound.
“The offensive line is very powerful,” Andersen said.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock, in his first season as a starter, is completing 60.9 percent of his passes and is averaging 202.0 passing yards per game.
Rudock's best play in the 17-10 victory over Northwestern came in overtime when he beat an all-out blitz with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
“We ask our quarterbacks to do a lot in terms of making sure we are in the right plays,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He continues to show a lot of poise out there, a lot of control.”
The last team UW faced this season that consistently uses multiple tight ends and features a downhill running game was Purdue on Sept. 21.
However, the Boilermakers' tailbacks aren't power runners, and the players were in their first year of a new scheme.
Will UW's front seven struggle to adjust Saturday after facing a steady diet of spread teams?
Linebackers Chris Borland, who expects to start despite missing the final three quarters at Illinois after suffering a right-hamstring injury, and Ethan Armstrong say no and welcome the change.
“I love them all, but I think this is especially fun,” Borland said when asked about facing Iowa's pro-style scheme. “They're really simple, straightforward game plans usually, and you just have to execute and be physical and tackle well. I think that suits us well.”
Armstrong added: “It's kind of refreshing to play against a team that likes to play with two tight ends and run the football.”
Borland on track to play
Linebacker Chris Borland, who missed the final three quarters of UW's victory at Illinois after suffering a right hamstring injury, should be ready to play this week at Iowa.
“I expect him to play,” UW coach Gary Andersen said Monday. “Practice we'll be careful. We'll continually watch him and monitor him as it goes. The trainers have done a great job getting him to this point. Chris has done a great job.
“Obviously it's not an injury that is foreign to him. He has been through this before a couple times. I think he'll get back as soon as he can, but I'm very optimistic that he'll play.”
Borland leads UW in solo tackles (35) and total tackles (57). He also has two sacks, tied for the No. 2 mark on the team.
UW is coming off its second bye week of the season and according to Andersen, Borland would not have been able to play last week if the Badgers had a game.
“It came at a great time for Chris,” Andersen said of the bye. “I know how much it means to him and how much it means to us to have him on the field.
“Missing a Big Ten game is big for Chris and he basically missed the Illinois game. He doesn't want that to happen (again) and neither do we.”
Borland, who sat out last season against Ohio State and Penn State after straining his right hamstring at Indiana, acknowledged he needs to be cautious in practice but also stressed the importance of getting some work in during the week.
“We'll see how it feels day to day,” Borland said. “You definitely have to get at least some practice in.”
Borland suffered a minor knee injury the week before the 2012 Big Ten opener at Nebraska. He practiced a minimal amount in the days leading to that game but started and finished with two fumble recoveries and nine tackles.
“I don't think it affected me,” Borland said of the missed practice time. “You can watch more film. It is a challenge, but there are other ways to combat it.”
Asked to explain how difficult it would be to miss the Iowa game, Borland made it clear that wasn't on his radar.
“Missing a game your senior year would be really difficult to deal with,” he said. “But I don't think I'm going to miss a game.”