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Iowa Heads to Madison for Big Ten West Showdown with Wisconsin

Iowa Hawkeye football is back with another Big Ten game, this time the Hawkeyes will be taking on Wisconsin it what very well could be the game that decides the Big Ten West champion. Iowa comes in with a 5-1 record, 2-1 in the Big Ten, while Wisconsin comes in with a 4-1 record and 2-0 in conference play. These are 2 programs that have essentially mirrored each other over the last couple decades, but now seem to be branching apart with Wisconsins hiring of Luke Fickell.

Wisconsin has endured some changes coming into this season, and now the Badgers are sitting at 4-1 with a loss on the road against Washington State. The Badgers have a mix of some familiar faces on this roster, along with some new contributors via the transfer portal. In his first season at Wisconsin, Luke Fickell has the Badgers looking like contenders again in the Big Ten.

Leading the Badgers offense is none other than QB Tanner Mordecai. Mordecai is a senior out of Waco, Texas and is somewhat of a journeyman QB. Mordecai started his career at Oklahoma, where he never really saw a lot of reps. Then after 3 years in Norman, Mordecai transferred to SMU, where he would be the starter for 2 seasons, before ultimately ending up at Wisconsin.

Mordecai hasn’t been anything crazy so far this season, passing for 1,021 yards with 3 TDs and 3 INTs to this point. His best game ironically came in their only loss against Washington State, where Mordecai would complete 25 of 40 passes for 277 yards and a TD. Mordecai has broken 200 yards passing just twice this season, the only other game coming against Georgia Southern.

Mordecai while not an amazing passer, is a good threat in the run game. He’s had at least 1 run of 10+ yards in all but 1 game this season, and has accounted for 4 rushing TDs so far this year. If he gets out of the pocket, he can hurt you if you aren’t careful. His season high on rush yards is only 50 yards, so he’s not going to absolutely kill you running the ball, but he can be a threat if you don’t stop him.

Speaking of the run game, that is still Wisconsins bread and butter. You can change the coach, but the Badgers still know how to pound the rock. The Badgers run game is led by junior RB Braelon Allen. Allen is among the nations elite when it comes to RBs, as he has broken 1,200 yards in each season prior to this one. Over his career, Allen has taken 489 carries for 2,982 yards and 30 TDs, just absolutely elite numbers. He’s averaged 6.1 yards per carry throughout his career.

This season, Allen is off to a great start. Thus far this season, Allen has taken 73 carries for 472 yards and 7 TDs. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has a season long run of 52 yards. Allen had his best game of the season in Week 1 against Buffalo, where he took 17 carries for 141 yards and 2 TDs.

Allen in the past hasn’t been much of a threat in the passing game, but that has changed this season. Allen already has his career high for catches in a season this year, and the Badgers aren’t even halfway through the season. It’s very. obvious Wisconsin has been trying to get him more involved as a pass-catcher.

It would be a huge mistake to not address that the Badgers are down another elite rushing option in Chez Mellusi. Mellusi fractured his fibula in a game against Purdue a couple weeks back, and that is a huge loss for the Badger offense. Mellusi is a former Clemson Tiger who transferred to Wisconsin in 2021. Mellusi was a good change of pace from Braelon Allen. He had taken 51 carries for 307 yards and 4 TDs this season, averaging 6 yards per carry. Best wishes to Mellusi in his recovery.

Wisconsin has 2 pass-catchers that are very talented. The first one I’m going to highlight is sophomore Will Pauling. Pauling is a guy that followed Fickell over from Cincinnati. This season, Pauling has already surpassed his career highs in catches and yards, tallying 22 catches for 243 yards this season.

The other top pass-catcher for the Badgers is senior Chimere Dike. Dike has caught 11 passes for 228 yards and 1 TD so far this season. Dike is a senior in his 4th season for the Badgers, and was a key contributor last season, where he caught 47 passes for 689 yards and 6 TDs.

Wisconsin is a very talented football team that can and will take advantage of mistakes. The Badgers have made a lot of changes coming into this season, including a brand new coaching staff. That genuinely might be Iowa’s biggest advantage. This is a staff that has never seen a Phil Parker defense up close and personal, and that’s a tough task if you’re seeing it for the first time.

I have no idea what to expect come Saturday, but my prediction? Iowa 13- Wisconsin 10

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