Heartland Trophy at Stake Saturday

Nov. 18, 2014

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa’s next football opponent — Wisconsin — has been in the news a lot this week because of a record-setting performance by one of its running backs.

UI head coach Kirk Ferentz is giving plenty of attention to the Badgers’ 3-4 defense, too.

Iowa (7-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) and No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) meet Nov. 22 in a Big Ten Conference West Division matchup inside Kinnick Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:36 p.m. (CT).


“We’re on the drawing board right now,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. “They pose a lot of challenges. The defensive scheme is different than what they had prior to coach (Gary) Andersen being there. You have to earn whatever you get and if you don’t realize that going in then it could be a frustrating day for you.”

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon set an NCAA FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards versus Nebraska on Nov. 15. While the Badger offense is third in the conference with 493.2 yards per game, their defense is the stingiest, allowing 244.0.

During preparation for the upcoming game, Ferentz reflected on the Redskins and 49ers, two of the great NFL teams of the late 80s. He sees similarities between those Super Bowl champions and the Badgers.

“You think about their offense and they had good defense behind them,” Ferentz said. “Same thing with Wisconsin. You can talk about the running attack, because it’s so stellar, but I think the amazing thing is a year ago they made the transformation to another (defensive) scheme (3-4) and played it at a high level.”

The Badgers enjoy a comfortable cushion in the league’s rushing offense department, averaging 351.2 yards a game. Nebraska is second, averaging 86.8 fewer yards per game. Ferentz didn’t want to say it would take a perfect effort to come out on top against Wisconsin, but…

“It’s going to take our best football,” he said. “We’re going to have to play really well at 11 positions.”

Being in a favorable situation on third down is magnified in a game like this.

“The challenge is trying to get manageable third downs. We didn’t do a good job last year,” Ferentz said. “If they can get you in predictable third downs, they do a good job there, too.”

Iowa was 4-of-18 in third-down conversions when Wisconsin defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-9, last season in Kinnick Stadium.

Both teams are coming off victories. Iowa defeated Illinois, 30-14, on the road, the Badgers downed Nebraska, 59-24, at home for their fifth straight win.

This will mark the third of four trophy games for the Hawkeyes. Iowa and Wisconsin have battled for the Heartland Trophy since 2004 and the series since then has been nearly as close as the all-time series that began in 1894: 4-4 with the Heartland Trophy on the line, Wisconsin leads 43-42-2 overall.

Helping pave the way for the Wisconsin backfield is an offensive line where the average of the interior five is 6-foot-5, 321 pounds. Ferentz was asked how junior Nate Meier, Iowa’s starting defense end who is 6-2, 244, would fare.

“My recommendation is you stay real low, consistently,” Ferentz said. “If you’re not a big guy then you better learn how to play with leverage and this would be a good week to make sure you’re on top of your game.”

Iowa continues to lead all Big Ten teams in fewest penalty yards per game at 29.4. The Hawkeyes were flagged just once at Illinois — a holding penalty on the second to last play of the game.

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