Hawkeye defensive line set for season’s biggest challenge
The spotlight in this year’s matchup between Iowa and Wisconsin won’t be fixed on quarterbacks, special teams, or even running backs.
Instead, it will shine brightly on the line of scrimmage.
No. 13 Iowa (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) wields what many call the country’s best defensive line, while No. 10 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) boasts an offensive line that is elite in its own right.
The highly anticipated collision will go a long way in deciding which team claims victory Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:36 p.m., and the game will be televised to a regional audience on ABC. Other viewers can see the game on ESPN.
Both groups of linemen are experienced. The Hawkeyes start three seniors and one junior, and three of the Badgers’ five starters are upperclassmen.
But more importantly, as Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, they’ve both been productive.
“You know, experience is one thing, but Wisconsin has had a lot of success with this group, and we could say the same,” he said. “Our defensive line has played pretty well for a period of time now.”
“I think as a fan, it would be really a point of interest, and it’s an interesting matchup.”
Iowa safety Tyler Sash isn’t tasked with directly competing against the Badgers up front, but he said it seems like Wisconsin “has the biggest guys” every year.
This season is no different.
“They’re gigantic,” Ferentz said. “That jumps right at you.”
All together, Wisconsin’s offensive line weighs more than 1,600 pounds. Four of the five starters are 6-5 or taller, while right guard Kevin Zeitler stands at a “puny” 6-4.
The unit’s left side — which includes Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt, both preseason All-Americans — is especially daunting.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who weighs 285 pounds, will spend much of his afternoon trying to get off the blocks of the 6-7 Carimi, who is listed at 327 pounds. Clayborn said the size deficit doesn’t make much of a difference because “we’re both big,” but he knows poor technique will result in him being blown off the line.
Ferentz emphasized the same point.
“You just have to be really good with your technique,” he said. “You can’t hang around. You better get off blocks and get moving because if you hang around too long, you’re going to get gobbled up.”
There’s no question Iowa holds an advantage in speed, but for the Hawkeyes to fully utilize that advantage, they must “fly around” on every play, defensive tackle Karl Klug said.
“If we aren’t hustling around, we have no chance,” he said.
Size, technique, and speed — among other things — are all factors that will help decide which side claims an edge. But Clayborn points to one simple thing that may put either unit over the top: sheer determination.
“Who wants to kick each other’s butt the most?” he said. “[When] a defense like ours and an offense like theirs is going head to head every play, that’s pretty much what it’s all about.”
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