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Badger D looms for Hawks

BY DANNY PAYNE | NOVEMBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Yes, Melvin Gordon rushed for 406 yards in three quarters last week against Nebraska. Yes, he’s the best running back in college football. Yes, he should be given the Heisman Trophy in New York City on Dec. 15.

But no, Wisconsin is not named the Wisconsin Melvin Gordons, but rather the Wisconsin Badgers, and they have one hell of a defense — the best in the country, to be exact.

“You can talk about the running attack, because it’s so stellar,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But I think the amazing thing is a year ago they made that transformation to another scheme, the 3-4 scheme, and played it at a really high level.”

Ferentz was speaking about the new scheme Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen brought in after being hired following the 2012 season. So far, things have worked out fantastically, most recently highlighted by its performance in the Nebraska game.

The Huskers came into the game with one of the better offenses in the Big Ten, averaging 490.6 total yards, 138.9 of which came on the ground from running back Ameer Abdullah.

The Badgers shut them down, however, and only allowed 180 total yards — including 69 rushing from Abdullah.

As of this writing, the Badgers rank first in the league in three of the four major defensive categories — total defense (244 yards per game), scoring defense (15.3 points allowed per game), and passing defense (147.3 per contest).

That other category? Rushing defense, where the Badgers rank second behind only Penn State, giving up 96.7 yards per game.

On a national scale, Wisconsin ranks first, third, third, and fifth in the country in total, scoring, passing, and rushing defense, respectively.

So yes, Iowa will have its hands full with this Wisconsin team. At his weekly Tuesday press conference, Ferentz played things close to the vest, saying he didn’t know what his team’s plan will be against Bucky.

But if last season is any indication, expect a fairly balanced attack. Iowa threw the ball 40 times and ran 32.

“You always look back to the past,” said running back Mark Weisman, who ran nine times for 15 yards in last year’s contest. “A lot of the same guys, not all obviously, some graduated.

“… You look back, see how they played against certain formations, because not every team runs the same formations we do and how we do it.”

Last week’s win at Illinois was only the second game this season that Weisman has gone without a touchdown. Should Iowa be successful against Wisconsin, Weisman will have to have one of his best games of the season. He said he and the rest of the Hawkeyes — especially the seniors — welcome this challenge.

So will quarterback Jake Rudock. He split time with backup C.J. Beathard in last year’s game because of an injury, but he said he can use the experience from that to play against the Badgers 3-4 scheme. 

“It’s just a different type of defense, different type of front you have to prepare for,” Rudock said. “… You have to adjust to what they’re doing at times. We still want to run our certain plays, and I think it all depends on how a game starts going.”

With a nontraditional (a 4-3 is more common in college football) front coming at him, Rudock, along with the 10 other guys on offense, will have to be at their best against the best defense in the nation.
They know it, too.

“You have to earn whatever you get,” Ferentz said. “And if you don’t realize that going in, then it could be a really frustrating day for you.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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