Hawkeyes set for biggest matchup of season against Badgers

Iowa’s Big Ten Championship hopes will be hanging in the balance when it takes on Wisconsin on Saturday.

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Hawkeyes set for biggest matchup of season against Badgers

Northwestern slotback Charlie Mangieri loses the ball as Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia collides with him during the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0. Ojemudia had a total of three tackles during the game.

Northwestern slotback Charlie Mangieri loses the ball as Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia collides with him during the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0. Ojemudia had a total of three tackles during the game.

Katina Zentz

Northwestern slotback Charlie Mangieri loses the ball as Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia collides with him during the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0. Ojemudia had a total of three tackles during the game.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Northwestern slotback Charlie Mangieri loses the ball as Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia collides with him during the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0. Ojemudia had a total of three tackles during the game.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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When Iowa football’s 2019 schedule first came out, the biggest game of the season seemed to be the Hawkeyes’ matchup with Michigan in Ann Arbor on Oct. 5. Not anymore.

Now, the most important game on Iowa’s docket is undoubtedly its battle against Wisconsin that will take place Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

With Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin all connected toward the top of the Big Ten West standings, this game will have plenty of postseason implications for both the Hawkeyes and the Badgers.

“As we start the month now, we move into November,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “November football is always significant, and it’s good to be in a position where the games mean a lot, and it presents a lot of opportunity.”

While it’s Iowa’s biggest game of the season, it’s also one in which the Hawkeye defense will face the best running back it has seen in 2019.

Badger back Jonathan Taylor ranks fifth in the nation with 126.1 rushing yards per game, and he’s scored 15 touchdowns on the ground — five more than Iowa has as a team.

Taylor has gained at least 130 yards on the ground in four of his eight games this season, and he’s scored more than one touchdown in five, including a five-score performance against Kent State on Oct. 5.

In 2017, Taylor ran for 157 yards on 29 carries against the Hawkeyes. He added another 117 yards in 2018.

“The big thing is you’re on edge the entire game as long as he’s out there,” Ferentz said. “You have to respect his ability to finish plays, and it’s really a significant factor.”

To combat Taylor’s knack for breaking off explosive plays, the Hawkeyes will need to make tackles when given the opportunity.

If given a one-on-one opportunity, Taylor knows how to make a defense pay.

If Iowa can find a way to stop him, that’ll force Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan — who’s in his first season as a full-time starter — to make plays through the air.

Even though Coan has only thrown two interceptions on the season, the Hawkeye defense feels as if it has an advantage if it stops the run.

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“We’re going to try to heat it up and make it blurry for [Coan], because we think he’s a good quarterback, but we don’t think he’s really exceptional,” Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “I think if we force him to pass, and make It blurry, and heat it up on him, I think he’s prone to make mistakes.”

The loser of Saturday’s game will likely fall out of the race for the Big Ten West title, but a win could change everything.

In what should be a classic, gritty Iowa-Wisconsin matchup, the Hawkeyes are just hoping to come out with a victory by putting some points on the board and keeping a potent Badger offense in check.

“Going into every game, it’s either going to put a win on your record or a loss on your record, and wins and losses determine the outcome of everything,” Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “Every game is a big game. There’s no significant higher standard of this matchup. We go into it as a win is going to put us ahead, and a loss is going to put us behind.”

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