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10 Things to know about Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Wisconsin and Iowa get together for the Heartland Trophy and for the 91st time all-time. Here are 10 things to know about the game on Saturday.

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There are few games bigger in the Big Ten West division, literally and figuratively, than the Iowa Hawkeyes and Wisconsin Badgers. Simply put, it seems as if the division winner goes through winning that game.

With Iowa coming off a monumental upset of Ohio State last weekend and the Badgers sitting 9-0 on the season, once again this game has plenty of meaning. Not only is the Heartland Trophy on the line, but so too are the hopes of a West division title for both teams.

We’ll get in to that and more as we dive deep in to the Badgers vs. Hawkeyes matchup at Camp Randall Stadium this Saturday afternoon.

 

1: This is Wisconsin’s magic number for the Big Ten West division title 

The scenario is easy: Wisconsin wins, it wins the West division title on Saturday and Badgers fans can count on their hotel reservations in Indianapolis meaning something once again. With Northwestern the only team within striking distance of the Badgers and already with two losses (including one to the Badgers) a win coupled with just two games left in the regular season would clinch the division for UW for the third time in four years.

2: Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten in rush defense this season

That stat line may not be all that shocking, considering how good we have seen Wisconsin’s defense play all season. But, after giving up just 40 yards on the ground last weekend to Indiana, Wisconsin’s per-game average of 87.7 puts them just .7 yards per game behind league-leading Michigan State. Iowa comes in to this game with just eight rushing touchdowns, the second-worst rushing TD mark in the conference, and are 10th in rushing offense (143.2) on the year.

3: That is the number of Big Ten West divisions titles won between the Hawkeyes and Badgers

Yes, it has been only three years since the East-West division split for the Big Ten, but you can count on the winner of this game likely winning the division. No other team has won it outside of Iowa or Wisconsin, with the Badgers winning twice and Iowa once. However, neither have gone on to win the Big Ten championship.

4: Iowa’s defense is 4th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (18.1 points per game)

Just how good have Big Ten defenses been this season? Iowa’s 18.1 points per game average sits No. 16 in the nation heading in to this week but is just the fourth-best mark in the conference. Wisconsin’s offense is averaging a healthy 36.1 points per game, but Iowa’s defense has had a good time holding opponents down. Just how good are they in doing that? 8 of the last 9 opponents have been held under their season average.

5: Wisconsin senior DE Alec James has put up 5.5 sacks this season

While he isn’t getting a ton of publicity, he is having one of the most productive seasons for a Badgers defensive lineman in nearly a decade. His current total sits just behind J.J. Watt’s 2011 total of 7.5 sacks for the best in the last seven years. With three games to go there is a good chance for James to beat that mark. That’s especially true considering 3.5 of his sacks have come in the last two weeks combined. Iowa’s offensive line has had issues dealing with pressure most of this season, so James could have a good chance to get on the board once again this weekend.

6: Wisconsin has won six of the last 11 games in this series

Why is this even significant? Well, this Saturday will be the 12th time the Badgers and Hawkeyes have met for an official trophy game and the Badgers own the Heartland Trophy edge with a 6-5 record in the 11 games played for the brass bull since its introduction in 2004. Iowa owned Wisconsin in the first two games once the trophy was introduced, but the Badgers own the longest win streak in the trophy game at just three (2010-2014). The two have traded wins since then, can the Badgers buck the trend?

7: A win on Friday would mean 7-straight for the Badgers in the Rusty Toolbox game

The what? Yes, while there is a trophy on the line on Saturday afternoon, the managers of these two teams play an equally heated one the day before this game. Iowa leads the all-time series 11-10, but the Badgers have a chance to even things up and make it 7-straight over the Hawkeyes managers with a win in this flag football contest. The game first started in 1991, but has been played every year the two teams have gotten together since 1995.

8: 8 of 11 opponent drives to start in UW territory have ended in no touchdowns

One of Wisconsin’s biggest strengths on defense this season has been its ability to not buckle under pressure. In fact, they seem to thrive on it, like as in the fact that just 3 of 11 drives that have started in UW territory have ended in a touchdown. That includes a Maryland drive that started at the Badgers 5-yard line a few weeks ago. Given Iowa’s ability to create turnovers, this could be a huge help to Wisconsin’s efforts on Saturday afternoon.

9: UW’s 9-0 start puts them in rare territory this season

The Badgers are just one of five teams with an undefeated record heading in to the final three weeks of the season. Alabama, Georgia, Miami (FL) and UCF are the only other unbeaten teams in FBS football. But, the Badgers win streak isn’t just sitting at nine games, it’s been 12 straight wins in Big Ten regular season play and that is the best win streak in B1G play by any Badgers team ever. With a win on Saturday, the Badgers would also have a third-straight 10-win season under head coach Paul Chryst, with the Badgers already owning 30 wins in the Chryst era. Let’s just say this bunch knows how to win and win often.

10: That is the number of receiving touchdowns for Iowa’s tight ends in 2017

Want to know the secret to Iowa’s offense? Look no further than the guys who are the edges of the offensive line, because they’ve been instrumental in just about anything Iowa has done this season. Noah Fant (So.) and T.J. Hockenson (redshirt freshman) have combined for 42 receptions this season. Of those 42 receptions, all but five have resulted in a touchdown (10) or first down (27). Fant’s seven TDs are a single-season school record for a tight end.

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Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers

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No recruit has ever been as hyped as quarterback Graham Mertz has been in Wisconsin Badgers history.

Normally that would lead to coaches tempering their words and expectations. Given head coach Paul Chryst’s history of exactly that, it was a bit surprising to hear him speak with excitement about what Mertz may bring to the table in Madison.

So far, Chryst has been very impressed with how Mertz is handling everything on and off the field.

“Yeah, Graham has got a great personality,” said Chryst at Big Ten media day on Friday. “I think he’s done a nice job of — he came in the spring, and getting to know our teammates, and I think he’s handling — there’s a lot of buzz and talk about him, and I think he’s handled it well, and I think the team has handled it, as well.”

What has impressed the head coach most about his freshman quarterback? Chryst says it is how he is handling everything that has been thrown at him since he entered school in January.

“They’re experiencing a lot for the first time, going to school and being away from home, and there’s obviously a ton of football with it, and I think all three have handled it, and Graham has handled it well, and I’m excited for those three, Graham in particular, that went through spring and then you have summer and now they’ll be able to go into fall camp and it’s not all new to them,” said Chryst.

“But I’ve been impressed with how Graham has handled himself, and I think he’s — again, cares a lot about teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person, and I think that’s a great place to start.”

Perhaps the most telling statement from Chryst during his time at the podium on Friday, was the one where he actually used the words “excitement” and “Graham” in the same sentence.

“And certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham,” Chryst said to the media. “He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games, and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”

Does that mean Mertz is the immediate savior of the Badgers offense? No.

But, unlike years past, Chryst is at least willing to go out on a limb and live in the excitement of what could happen in the future.

This type of talk should only serve to continue to spark the speculation and the spotlight on the quarterback position in Madison in the next few weeks.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019

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Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.

Previous Positions:Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker |

No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.

With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.

But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.

Best Case Scenario

The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.

Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.

Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.

No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.

Worst Case Scenario

If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.

My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.

Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.

As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Most Likely to Happen

As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.

I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.

It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.

Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.

As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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