Iowa- (19) Wisconsin
Time: NOON ET, Oct 3 2015 (ESPN)
Spread: WIS -7
Betting odds c/o Bovada
Week 1 the Wisconsin Badgers took a tough 35-17 loss to Alabama. Since that time, the Badgers have won three straight over Miami (OH), Troy and Hawaii. This week it opens its Big Ten schedule with 4-0 Iowa at home. While Iowa has been impressive so far, college football oddsmakers favor Wisconsin by 7-points and have set the over/under betting at 45 points.
Wisconsin has been able to get its running game going, which will prove vital in Big Ten play. The Badgers topped 200 rushing yards last Saturday against Hawaii while scoring three of its four TDs via the rush. The Hawkeyes have allowed 84 rushing yards per game, but it has not allowed a single rushing TD on the season (the only other team to boast that is Navy).
The Badgers have increased the rushing yardage each game following Week 1 when it got just 40 in the loss to then-No. 3 ‘ Bama. Last week’s 326 is sure to be an outlier, but it averaged 193.5 yards in Week 2 and 3, and this is a team that can pound it out.
It may, in fact, be as good as last year’s attack, which averaged 320.14 yards per game. It is an overreaction to expect that, especially since last year’s squad averaged 6.9 yards per rush. QB Joel Stave feels the “running game is getting better every week” and that “we did a good job really sticking to it the past couple of weeks and kind of pushing it and eventually getting some big runs.”
Losing 2014 Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon was expected to be a blow, and the Badgers still have the lowest rushing average in the Big Ten at 142.3 yards per game. The team is still 9th in the conference, but getting a victory as favored this week is pretty important to Wisconsin to say the least.
Stave is 72 of 109 on the season (66.1%) for 830 yards and an average of 7.62 yards per attempt. He has seven TDs and just two INTs on the season and a passer rating of 147.0. The senior is trying to best his 2013 campaign which saw him throw for 2,494 yards at a 61.9 percent clip, with a raw QB rating of 62.3. This year he is on pace to do so and besting the QBR with a 70.8.
The backfield has mostly been a two-man attack with Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale doing the damage. Deal has rushed for 290 yards on 62 carries while scoring four TDs and Dare O. has rushed for 281 yards on 48 carries (5.9 yards per attempt) with three TDs, including a 35-yard TD run.
At WR Alex Erickson has been the primary target of the attack with a team-high 23 receptions for 320 yards (13.9 yards per attempt) and a TD. Both Robert Wheelwright and Austin Traylor have three TDs apiece, and both have caught for more than 100 yards on the season. Taylor is a 6’4” TE who is a good red zone target with three of his eight receptions having been TD passes. He did not play much of a role last season but now as a senior he will be expected to produce as he has thus far.
Iowa has thus far knocked off Illinois State, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and it pounded North Texas last week, 62-16. This week will be its first legitimate opponent, but it is hard to discount how well the Hawkeyes have taken care of business up until this point (nor do college oddsmakers do so by setting the line just a TD in favor of a hosting, ranked opponent). Of course, it does help Iowa has played three of four thus far at home.
Even so, C.J. Beathard is putting up numbers: He has thrown 75 of 110 (68.2 percent) for 962 yards and six TDs (one INT) for a passer rating of 157.8. There are already two receivers with more than 200 yards on the season (Matt VandeBerg and Trevaun Smith) and three with at least 100 (Jordan Canzeri as dual-threat, Jacob Hillyer and Henry Krieger Coble).
Cazeri is having a great season as the team’s primary offensive weapon, as he has rushed for 316 yards on 63 carries for eight TDs in addition to his work as a WR, which has been substantial enough to rank him No. 3 in receiving yards.
Canzeri is now a senior and finally primed for a huge role after rushing for over 975 yards over his sophomore and junior seasons combined. He had 102 carries last year at a 4.8 yard average but did not score a single TD, something that has become regular to him this year. He did catch for over 100 yards in each of the past two seasons, but he already has that many yards through Iowa’s first four games.
The Hawkeyes also utilize Beathart as a rusher and the QB is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on 27 attempts with three TDs. No. 2 back LeShun Daniels Jr has 217 yards on 48 carries but has not scored a TD. He’s a smaller back at 6’0” 225, and he likely will not get a lot of red zone calls this year, either. He scored one TD last year, but what has been encouraging is that he has upped his yards per carry by 1.2 in his junior year. He is likely to be heavily featured next season after Canzeri departs.
Overall, Iowa matches up fairly well with Wisconsin but do not let Iowa’s 4-0 record fool you, this is a team with some holes. The Badgers are a tougher team with a more lethal running game, even if Canzeri does get going be it catching or rushing.
Wisconsin also has superior depth. Expect Iowa to come out hard to try to take the wind out of the Badgers sails at home, but by late in the game Wisconsin should be able to cover this spread if it can exploit Iowa’s defense, which did surrender 24 points to Pitt.