MADISON, Wis. — Instead of cleats, a good pair of hiking boots might be appropriate footwear for the Iowa football team this week.
After dashing Ohio State’s hopes of being part of this year’s College Football Playoffs, the 25th-rated Hawkeyes have a chance to play the role of the spoiler again today in a 2:30 p.m. game at Wisconsin.
"It’s kind of like, we won a game Saturday, but we’ve got an even bigger hill to climb now," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The sixth-ranked Badgers have piled up nine wins to start to the season, and they take the field at Camp Randall Stadium riding a 10-game winning streak, matching Georgia for the nation’s second-longest active win streak.
Only Miami (Fla.), with 13, has won more consecutive games than the Wisconsin team that hopes to hold onto the Heartland Trophy against an Iowa team with hopes of building on its 31-point pounding of the third-ranked Buckeyes.
"Hopefully, that will excite the guys a little bit, help them see that ‘hey, we can do this if we really zero in and concentrate,’" Ferentz said. "But it’s a whole new challenge now. It’s a new week and a new challenge."
The Hawkeyes know what they’re getting against the Badgers, who are built with the same run-first, stop-the-run mentality that is also at the core of what Iowa works to accomplish.
This Wisconsin team leads the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 244.8 yards per game on the ground.
The Badgers are also second in the conference in stopping the run, within one yard of league-leading Michigan State in surrendering an average of 87.8 rushing yards per game.
There are differences — the Hawkeyes use more zone-run schemes while the Badgers are built around power and the strength created by an offensive front five that averages 322.4 pounds per player.
"It’s a lot of downhill stuff," Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. "It’s a lot of power, pulling guards, dividing tight ends. You try to replicate a little of the physical-ness of it out on the practice field, but you don’t want to do too much of that. You have to be ready for Saturday."
True freshman Jonathan Taylor has been the workhorse of the Badgers’ backfield this season.
The 5-foot-11, 214-pound running back from Salem, New Jersey, leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with an average of 152 rushing yards per game.
The most productive freshman running back in the nation has carried the ball 190 times this season, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and he has rushed for a Big Ten-best 12 touchdowns this season.
"What remarkable things he’s done already," Ferentz said. "If he stopped right now, which would be OK with me, he’s already had a great season for anybody, let alone a true freshman. Really, really impressive, and the guys behind him run the ball very well, too."
Iowa ran the ball well a week ago, too, collecting a season-best 243 yards on the ground to complement the 244 passing yards that were part of a 20-of-31 performance by Wisconsin native Nate Stanley at quarterback.
The Hawkeyes were the first pro-style offense Ohio State had seen this season, something Iowa linemen believed gave them an edge.
This week, those same players are adjusting to the first true 3-4 defensive alignment the Hawkeyes have seen this year.
"It’s a totally different preparation," center James Daniels said. "It’s a big difference. There are some plays you can’t run against a three-man front. It takes a lot more focus because people aren’t where people would usually be. It takes a lot more focus."
Still, Stanley and the Hawkeyes will look to create the same type of mismatches that led Iowa to success against Ohio State.
"Being able to get yards in the run game, staying ahead of the chains opens it up for us," tight end Noah Fant said. "Having those linebackers thinking run-first is going to put them at a disadvantage in the pass."
It’s the type of edge that can make a difference against an opponent Iowa fullback Drake Kulick described as the Hawkeyes’ "twin."
"Any little thing can make a difference," Kulick said. "We’ve got to find that little thing."