October 15, 2009

Keys to victory

The last four times that Iowa and Wisconsin have met in Madison they have each won twice and the average margin of victory has been less than a seven points. Expect more of the same on Saturday from both teams. In our weekly look at the Keys to Victory, we breakdown a key matchup on the line, a potential Iowa advantage in the game, and if the quarterbacks will decide the outcome.

Bulaga vs. Schofield

Since returning from his three game absence due to a thyroid problem, Bryan Bulaga has looked, well, human. He hasn't been happy with his overall performance and hinted that he might be a little rusty after his unplanned absence. Last weekend, Michigan Brandon Graham did a pretty good number on Bulaga a couple of times and that certainly isn't going to sit well Iowa's left tackle. Up next is O'Brien Schofield from Wisconsin, who is having a big season thus far. Schofield leads the conference in sacks at 6.5 and tackles for loss with 14.5. The tackles for loss number leads the country, so the guy is getting it done off the edge.

Seeing Red

Most experts expect the Iowa/Wisconsin game to be a low scoring slugfest type affair and that will make getting to the red zone tough and converting in the red zone even tougher. More specifically, if you get inside the 20, the team that gets into the end zone is going to exponentially help their chances when it comes to winning the game. Wisconsin has converted on 91% of their red zone opportunities and scored touchdowns on 19 of their 23 opportunities. That is good enough for 24th in the country. On the other hand, Iowa is 14-19 for 84% and come in 53rd nationally. Getting at least three points inside the 20 will be big, but finding the end zone will be huge.

Many Happy Returns

When you look at the numbers on both sides of the ball, Iowa and Wisconsin appear to be pretty close to even in most key categories. But, when it comes to special teams, advantage Iowa, at least on paper. While I don't expect a lot of action when it comes to kickoff returns simply because the game will likely not turn into a shootout, Wisconsin's kickoff return game is ranked 110th out of 120 schools, averaging just over 17 yards a return. Iowa hasn't been great either, ranked 89th in the country at just over 20 yards a return. But, Iowa seems to have gotten a bit of a boost with Brandon Wegher returning kickoffs. Also, the Badgers gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return last week against Ohio State. In the punt return game, Colin Sandeman looked pretty good last week and could be in for a good day on Saturday and return yards are hard to come by when Ryan Donahue punts the football. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's cover team is 51st in the nation, giving up eight yards a crack, and their return game ranks 83rd in the country.

Jar The Clay

Last year in the battle of big powerful backs in the annual tussle for the Heartland Trophy, the Hawkeyes won in a walk. Shonn Greene rushed for 217 yards and four touchdowns. John Clay finished with 89 yards and no scores. Clay did have a pretty decent day averaging 5.6 yards per carry and is off to a strong start this year, leading the Big Ten in rushing with 641 yards and seven scores. Wisconsin is averaging 200 yards a game on the ground and Clay is the main cog in their attack. The Hawkeye defense has hung their hat on stopping the run and last week they gave up 195 yards on the ground to a Michigan team that has been averaging 197 yards per game. Iowa can't afford to let Wisconsin and Clay hit their average if they expect to win this week.

QB the big key

There has been plenty of talk this week about both teams being mirror images of each other and nothing illustrates that better than at quarterback. Ricky Stanzi and Scott Tolzien are really pretty similar. Both are juniors. Both were somewhat overlooked early on in their careers and both have probably exceeded expectations to some degree. Both also threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns last week. In fact, Tolzien threw two of them. Neither quarterback can afford to make that type of mistakes again this week. Tolzien has thrown for 1,224 yards and nine touchdowns this year. Meanwhile, Stanzi has thrown for 1,359 yards and ten td's so far. The quarterback who plays better and avoids the big mistakes will greatly improve their team's chances of winning.

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