Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store | 24 Hawkeyes to Watch 2016-17 | Hawk Talk Monthly — Oct. 2016 | Game Notes PDF
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ask University of Iowa assistant football coach Reese Morgan the key to stopping Wisconsin, and he’ll tell you without hesitation it starts with stopping the run. In fact, it is so key, he’ll say it twice.
“Stop the run. Stop the run,” said Morgan, who is in 17th year on the Iowa football staff. “That’s what they want to do and they have done it to everybody they’ve played.”
The Badgers visit Kinnick Stadium on Saturday ranked No. 10 in the country. They’ve dropped consecutive games since opening the season 4-0, but those games include a seven-point loss at No. 4 Michigan, and an overtime loss at home to No. 2 Ohio State.
A week ago the Badgers rushed for 236 yards and became the first team this season to score a rushing touchdown against the Buckeyes.
To slow that ground game, the task at hand belongs to Morgan’s defensive line. A unit that absorbed some run-stopping criticism early in the season, but has allowed only 148 rushing yards combined in wins at Minnesota and Purdue over the last two weeks.
“We’ve made some progress,” Morgan said. “The last two weeks we’ve done a much better job of playing our blocks and doing a good job in the run game, but we certainly have a lot of work to do.”
The Hawkeyes rotate three players at the defensive tackle position. Junior Nathan Bazata and senior Jaleel Johnson have each started 21 consecutive games, with senior Faith Ekakitie spelling them off the bench. The trio had zero combined starts between them 13 months ago, but has shown steady improvement.
“Their understanding of the defense is better,” Morgan said. “Their ability to play blocks and understand what we’re trying to do and how it fits into everybody else on the system is better. Certainly they’ve improved, but they have work to do.”
The outside linemen find themselves in a situation similar to the interior linemen a year ago — long on talent, short on experience. Sophomores Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse start at defensive end, with redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson filling the rotation.
“They’ve shown progress,” Morgan said. “That’s a tough position. You not only have to play the run tough, but you’re out there on the edge of some zone schemes, and then you have to rush the quarterback.”
Limiting both will be a challenge Saturday. The Badgers racked up 450 yards of offense last week, including 236 yards rushing and 214 yards passing.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Morgan said. “We are going to embrace the opportunity to play a top 10 team.”
Kickoff is Saturday at 11:01 a.m. inside Kinnick Stadium. A limited number of tickets are available at the UI Athletics Ticket Office at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, over the phone at 1-800-IA-HAWKS, or online at hawkeyesports.com.