Top defenses strut as No. 9 Iowa visits Wisconsin

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An Iowa-Wisconsin matchup that appeared to have lost some luster will have title implications after all when the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes visit Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Saturday.

Iowa (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) shares the West Division lead with Minnesota, a game ahead of Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes seemed to be the class of the division, rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 before a shocking 24-7 home loss to Purdue on Oct. 16.

Wisconsin (4-3, 2-2) was all but written off after a 1-3 start, which included a pair of conference losses at home to nationally ranked Penn State and Michigan. But behind a rejuvenated rushing attack and dominant defense, the Badgers inserted themselves back into the Big Ten conversation with a 30-13 victory at then-No. 25 Purdue last weekend.

Iowa hosts Minnesota on Nov. 13 and Wisconsin closes the regular season at Minnesota on Nov. 27.

“It’s always a great opportunity and challenge to play a really good Iowa team,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “Looking forward to a good week of preparation.”

The emergence of 238-pound freshman Braelon Allen has helped to reignite Wisconsin’s traditional punishing ground game. After 12 carries in the first three games combined, Allen has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past three games, all victories.

Chez Mellusi, the transfer from Clemson, leads Wisconsin in rushing with 692 yards and four touchdowns. He carried 27 times for 149 yards against Purdue, and Allen ran 12 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

The improved ground game has taken the pressure off quarterback Graham Mertz, who was an efficient 5-for-8 for 52 yards passing against Purdue without an interception. Mertz has thrown seven picks this season.

The Badgers are No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 218 yards a game, and No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of just 53.3, and No. 2 in total defense (223.0). During its three-game winning streak, Wisconsin has allowed just 9.0 points and 188.3 yards.

After holding Purdue to minus-13 yards on 24 carries, the Badgers’ season-long allowance of 1.87 yards per carry leads the nation by a wide margin (Georgia is next at 2.16).

The Hawkeyes, coming off a bye after the loss to Purdue, have had an extra week to regroup and prepare.

Iowa ranks 12th nationally in overall defense, allowing 301 yards per game, and is tied for third in scoring defense at 14.6 points. The Hawkeyes lead the country in interceptions with 16 and is second in takeaways with 20.

In their loss to Purdue, however, the Hawkeyes were the ones turning the ball over: Spencer Petras was intercepted four times as Iowa was outgained 464-271.

The Hawkeyes average just 116.6 yards per game on the ground. Tyler Goodson has run for 586 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. Petras has completed 119 of 200 passes for 1,333 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

“We have to challenge their offense,” said Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. “We have to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to stop the run, we’ve got to do all those things.”

Iowa’s 28-7 victory at home last season snapped a four-game Wisconsin winning streak in the Heartland Trophy rivalry. The Badgers have won seven of the last nine meetings.

–Field Level Media

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