IOWA CITY — Scout team running backs Shadrick Byrd and Samson Evans are taking one for the team this week on the football practice field at Iowa.
Actually, they’re taking more than one for the team.
Preparing for Saturday’s 3 p.m. road test against a 16th-ranked Wisconsin team that matches the Hawkeyes’ preference to play power football, Iowa is working through one of its most physical weeks of practice this season.
In their role of simulating what Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor will bring to the field, Byrd and Evans find themselves on the receiving end of what the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes’ defense plans to dish out at Camp Randall Stadium.
“Those guys, I feel for them a little bit. They’re getting in on quite a bit of action this week,’’ Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said Tuesday.
Taylor is in the middle of everything for Wisconsin.
The Badgers’ 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior leads the nation in scoring and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 126.1 yards per game.
Of the 552 plays Wisconsin has ran this season on its way to a 6-2 start, Taylor has had his hands on the football 194 times.
He has rushed for 1,009 yards on 177 carries and gained 143 yards on 17 receptions.
For Iowa, stopping Wisconsin starts with being in the vicinity of where Taylor finds himself on a given play.
“We all have to be around the ball,’’ Colbert said. “We all have to swarm the ball. We realize they can throw it, too, but we know they want to run the ball by all means.’’
That’s where Byrd and Evans come in this week.
“They’ve got a tough job this week and I’m sure they’re feeling it a bit coming off the field after practice,’’ Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “Guys have been really getting after them all week.’’
The idea is for the Hawkeyes’ defense, which ranks eighth nationally against the run while limiting opponents to an average of 87.8 yards on the ground, to slow a Wisconsin offense which runs for an average of 216.5 yards per game.
A physical-first approach allows the Badgers to accumulate that type of yardage, playing a brand of football the Hawkeyes thrive at as well.
“We look forward to games like this, especially guys in the front seven because we know they’re going to come out and run the ball,’’ Colbert said. “Linebackers and defensive linemen live for games like this. It’s a challenge for all of us, but as a competitor you love the challenge.’’
Northwestern is built the same way in many respects and Iowa prepared for the Wildcats with extra work in pads during the days leading up to the Hawkeyes’ second shutout victory of the season.
“You do see it carry over,’’ free safety Jack Koerner said. “At first you might think ‘Why are we tackling? This could get somebody hurt.’ But, it makes us more effective in the game. I think everybody’s bought into that.’’
The results in a 20-0 win at Northwestern illustrated that point.
“We had two of our more physical practices ever that week, and it carried over to the game,’’ Koerner said. “You do see it carry over and make us more effective. This has been a physical week in practice and we’re getting ready for a physical game. That is the way it should be.’’
The timing of this week’s game, coming off of a bye week, also facilitates the extra energy on the practice field.
“If it were the last game of the year, it might be a different story, and it will be a different story as we transition, but it’s just kind of part of our plan. That’s how we practice,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
To a degree, that is always how the Hawkeyes practice.
Iowa traditionally spends more time on the practice field in pads than many of the opponents it faces.
“You play the game in pads, you practice in pads. We try to be smart when we get to November, but we just came off a week where we were really trying to pull back and let the guys get recharged,’’ Ferentz said.
“This week, I think it’s important that we fit our pads and we’d better get them fit really well and really tight because these guys are going to help fit them on Saturday. I know that, so we’d better be ready to go.’’