IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 B1G Legends) host the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 3-1 B1G Leaders) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday with an 11:00 a.m. (C.T.) start on ABC/ESPN 2 mirror, depending on where you are located in the Nation. The Heartland Trophy will be on the line for the eighth time, since 2002. Today's game is the 87th in the series between these teams, with the series tied at 42-42-2.
Iowa owns a 4-3 edge in the trophy game, though Wisconsin currently holds the trophy, after a 31-30 heartbreaker in 2010 for Hawkeye fans at Kinnick. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is 6-6 in the series as head coach, since 1999. It will be Wisconsin's new coach's first game in the series.
Iowa vs. Wisconsin, as the Hawkeyes face the three-time defending Big Ten champion for the first time since 2010. The winner today will become bowl eligible for 2013 and they will take home the Heartland Trophy.
Wisconsin brings in a new Badger team with some new twists. The Badgers veteran front seven on defense are playing now a 3-4 base defense, highlighted by three senior linemen, Pat Muldoon, Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer. Hemer was a starting DT in 2010, in the last match up as a freshman. The biggest strength on defense, like Iowa, is the linebacker corp, lead by three seniors and one junior for the Badgers. Senior Chris Borland is the emotional leader of the unit, but he isn't 100%, due to a hamstring injury at Illinois.
The Badgers are coming off a bye week, so Borland has had time to rest and recover from the injury. If he isn't able to go, senior OLB Ethan Armstrong will swing inside to fill Borland's role at one of the ILB positions.
The Wisconsin offense will feature a jet sweep, which Iowa will face for the first time at Kinnick. Junior running back Melvin Gordon and senior James White bring an outstanding 1-2 bunch at RB for the Badgers. Freshman Corey Clement is waiting in the wings, as well. Wisconsin continues the plug and play mojo at running back over the past 20 years.
Iowa isn't known as a sexy program. It may not always be eye-popping, but Iowa's base 4-3 defense never looked better than it did last week vs. Northwestern- particularly during one very important series.
Junior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat sacked quarterback Kain Colter on the final play of Iowa's overtime victory against Northwestern last week. It was the Hawkeyes' sixth sack of the day, and second-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker said there was nothing fancy about it. Just good football players making great plays at opportune times. Iowa's six sack total was the highest, since 2008 vs. FIU.
"They finished it up on fourth down," said Parker. "We did pretty well on the third down, and on fourth down we just played our base defense and it worked out for us. It was a good victory."
Parker said the final series against the Wildcats -- which ended the game after the Iowa offense scored on its first possession -- could create some momentum for the defense, starting this week against No. 22/24 Wisconsin.
"We got over the hump a little bit last week -- playing a tight game, a close game, and then closing it out and winning it," said Parker. "Obviously, Wisconsin is a very good team and it will be a great challenge for us."
The Badger program has eerily resembled the Hawkeyes' since former Iowa assistant Barry Alvarez was named Wisconsin head coach in 1990. Alvarez stepped down following the 2005 season, but Bret Bielema, another former Hawkeye and coaching assistant, was hand-picked to succeed Alvarez as head football coach.
Bielema left for the SEC following the 2012 regular season, and though the Badgers' new head coach, Gary Andersen, may not possess the Hawkeye lineage of his predecessors, Parker said Wisconsin's identity has largely remained the same.
"I think they're very similar offensively to what we've seen in the past," said Parker. "They have unbelievable backs that can run, so they kind of run the same offense with similar plays. They do a great job and they're doing very well."
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten averaging 296 rushing yards per game, but stopping the run has been one of Iowa's strengths -- the Hawkeye defense allows just 128 rushing yards per game. Should the rushing pendulum lean toward Iowa on Saturday, Parker said the defense must be ready for misdirection.
"It's going to be a challenge for us to try to stop the run, but also the play-action pass," said Parker. "They do a very good job of moving the quarterback a little bit on play-action, and they have a receiver that can make plays. They move both of those guys around, so we'll need to be disciplined in fundamentals and technique, and we will need to play hard the whole game. It's definitely going to be a challenge."
Both teams traditionally set up play action with the running game. Both teams are lead by sophomore redshirt quarterbacks. Joel Stave entered the picture last season for Wisconsin as a redshirt freshman. Jake Rudock is in his first season playing for Iowa.
Though, second-year Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis is using more tempo, than Iowa teams over the past 15 years under Kirk Ferentz. Iowa using a no-huddle pro offense now, unlike 2010.
There will be two outstanding wide receivers wearing jersey No. 4 in Saturday's football game between the universities of Iowa and Wisconsin. One is a consensus first-team All-Big Ten performer; the other is Hawkeye sophomore Tevaun Smith.
Both are valuable weapons for their teams.
The "elder" No. 4 is Badger senior Jared Abbrederis, whose journey has taken him from walk-on quarterback to rushing, receiving, and returning his way into one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten Conference.
"If our four can become like their four, that would be a good thing," Ferentz said. "I would like to see that happen, it's possible."
This season Abbrederis has caught 43 passes for 752 yards and five touchdowns; he has returned five punts for 28 yards. He caught a 15 yard pass, as a freshman, in 2010, in the Iowa game.
"Abbrederis is a great receiver, he had a great game against Ohio State (10 catches, 207 yards, 1 touchdown)," Smith said. "Whatever I see in his game I try to implement it into mine to make myself better."
Smith has emerged from a jumble of Hawkeye pass catchers to become what head coach Kirk Ferentz calls the No. 2 receiver on the team behind junior Kevonte Martin-Manley.
So important is Smith, that even though he wasn't the primary option on the first play in overtime against Northwestern on Oct. 26, Rudock found him for a 14-yard gain, setting the table in a 17-10 victory.
"It was one of the plays we didn't run all game and we practiced it all week," Smith said. "I was able to get open because they bailed their corners and I tried to get as much (yardage) as I could after the catch."
Smith caught three passes for 41 yards against Northwestern, giving him 15 receptions for 154 yards on the season. That total is third on the team behind Martin-Manley (32) and senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (17).
Rudock and Smith are developing in the lineup together. Both are sophomores, but while Rudock did not take a snap last season, Smith caught three passes for 31 yards from James Vandenberg. This season Rudock has completed better than 60 percent of his passes to 17 different targets. The 6-foot-2 Smith is becoming one of his preferred options.
"He's climbing, he's coming on," Ferentz said of Smith. Iowa could have targeted more vs. Northwestern, but Davis has been conservative in the number of targets he gives to each play. Whether it is junior running back Mark Weisman in the running game or a hot receiver in the passing game?
Ascending to second on the depth chart among receivers isn't important to Smith. Doing what coach Ferentz asks has always been his objective.
"I feel like I'm playing the role he needs me to play," Smith said. "I'm doing whatever he asks. If he says I'm the second receiver, then so be it. I'm trying to do my job."
With the Hawkeyes averaging 188.9 yards on the ground per game and 4.4 yards per rush, it makes sense to go for the near-certain positive yardage on first down. Against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes ran 20 times and passed eight times on first down. Because of that ratio, it isn't uncommon for the Iowa offense to occasionally see eight defenders within a few yards of the line of scrimmage.
"I love it," Smith said with a smile. "I kind of want them to load the box so the receivers can have a chance to catch the ball."
With Iowa and Wisconsin, keep a close eye on the fullbacks, the tight ends and running backs, since they often are the difference makers, as they were in the 2010 game.
Special teams can't be forgot in this series. Senior placekicker Mike Meyer was Iowa's only starter in the 2010 game. He had a costly block on an extra point in the 2010 game.
The Hawkeyes had plenty of miscues in special teams in 2010, including the infamous fake punt that Bielema called on the Badgers final scoring series to take the lead for good over Iowa and bring home the Heartland Trophy for the Badgers
All three Iowa senior linebackers, James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens saw playing time vs. Wisconsin, as freshmen. Morris contributed with four tackles. The Hawkeyes have won two out of two trophy games in 2013. Will they make it three in a row?
Can Iowa switch the tables in 2013 on Wisconsin?
Our pick: Iowa 31, Wisconsin 30, which would be just that. It will be an interesting chess match at Kinnick. How will the coordinators use their men?