Football seeks revenge in Big Ten opener

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoThe last time Iowa was on the field at Camp Randall, the Hawkeyes walked off as victors and certifiable party spoilers, defeating the Badgers in then-head coach Barry Alvarez’s final home game. That loss still sticks in the mind of current UW head coach Bret Bielema.”Bottom line, that was [Alvarez’s] last game at Camp Randall,” Bielema said. “For someone that’s established so much at this university, to have it end that way wasn’t a good thing.”On the same account, you learn things along the way, turn negatives into positives, and that’s something we can talk about coming into this game.”In reality, there are enough interesting and compelling storylines for this Saturday evening’s Iowa-Wisconsin matchup to talk about for hours. Iowa enters Big Ten play with something to prove after a disappointing loss to in-state rival Iowa State. So far this season, Iowa’s offense under first-year starter Jake Christensen has been decent, but not spectacular, averaging 341 yards and just over 21 points per game. The Hawkeyes’ defense has stolen the show, however. Through three games, Iowa has given up only six points per game and hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach the end zone — the only team in Division I-A college football that can make that claim.Saturday’s game will feature a strength-versus-strength matchup with Wisconsin’s ground game that averages 215 yards per game and nearly five yards a carry up against Iowa’s stingy run defense that has allowed an eye-catching 2.1 yards per carry this season.In watching the Hawkeye defense, Bielema is reminded of the first Wisconsin defense he coached that started Antajj Hawthorne, Jason Jefferson, Jonathan Welsh and Erasmus James — four eventual NFL draft picks.”It starts up front, multiyear starters, those guys have all been three-year starters or more,” Bielema said. “Solid up front, solid in their techniques and play with great effort.” Across the field, the Wisconsin defense has failed to play up to preseason expectations. Coming off a season that saw the UW defense finish the season ranked fifth nationally in total defense, great things were expected out of the unit that lost only three players. So far, however, the defense has played at a fairly average level, allowing 21.7 points per game and only forcing two turnovers on defense (a third turnover was forced on special teams).Bielema declined to make his defensive players available to media this week, a departure from the conventional weekly schedule.”They want Saturday to be the first time they talk to you,” Bielema said. “What we basically have talked about was even after fall camp there was a lot said about our defense. The bottom line was what was gonna be said is what was gonna happen on Saturdays.”This was another way I could reinforce it to them.””We fed into ‘We think we’re a good defense already,’ and we really haven’t done anything,” cornerback Allen Langford said.One factor working in the Badgers’ favor is the start to the Big Ten schedule. In the first three games of the season, UW faced two spread offenses, a style of play the program has historically had problems with for one reason or another. Very few Big Ten teams play the spread style, opting instead for a more straightforward attack. The defense will have to deal with the two-headed Hawkeye running back combination of Albert Young and Damian Sims. Together, they average 178 yards of total offense and attack defenses with different styles.”They both are not afraid to stick it up in there,” Bielema said. “Damian’s a little smaller, but he’s very stout. They definitely complement each other very well.”For what Iowa does, they’re very good at that style. They’re very patient, and they understand the zone concept.”Wisconsin’s own running back situation is still somewhat undetermined — not who will see the most carries (P.J. Hill), but who the main backup will be.Sophomore Lance Smith has excelled when given the opportunity so far this season, but with a suspension that requires him to miss all the team’s remaining four road games, the coaching staff may end up giving true freshman Zach Brown carries as the main backup to better prepare him for future duty.”Both of them practiced very well (Thursday). … We’ll make that decision [Friday], and then tell them,” Bielema said. “One thing we did a week ago was we told them the order they were going to go in the game. I think that helps out the young players especially.”last_img read more