No. 18 Iowa will contend with Wisconsin and snowfall as strange regular season comes to an end
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Keith Duncan has shown he can kick a football straight, but his personality is a little off-center.
So it wasn’t surprising to hear Iowa’s senior kicker express an odd wish for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. home game against Wisconsin: Bring on the winter.
“We’d love snow,” Duncan said. “I think it would be fun.”
Other Hawkeyes, such as California native and starting quarterback Spencer Petras, might not share Duncan’s sentiment. But they’ll need to embrace one more strange turn in this strange season. Iowa City is expecting about 2.5 inches of snowfall Friday night and throughout Saturday.
For two Midwestern rivals who relish a punishing brand of football, it only seems fitting. Perhaps the folks at Fox Sports 1 will even televise it in black and white to complete the old-school setting.
Kinnick Stadium hasn’t seen a blanket of snow on a game day since Nov. 21, 2015, when Purdue was the opponent. Of course, the Hawkeyes aren’t usually playing home games in mid-December.
A sloppy field, with winds out of the north at 15 mph, will likely lead the No. 18 Hawkeyes (5-2) and No. 25 Badgers (2-2) to lean even more on what they prefer to do anyway: Run the football.
That would be fine with Hawkeye left offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, one of 22 seniors who will be honored before the game. The four-year starter is a probable NFL Draft pick next year, and being able to put on some tape that shows him pile-driving Badgers through a snowfall would help his case.
“Just do your job and win your one-on-one,” Jackson said of the key to success against Wisconsin’s stingy 3-4 defense. “You can’t control everything.”
Certainly not the weather.
Iowa is seeking its first win against Wisconsin since that undefeated 2015 regular season. The Hawkeyes won’t have to contend with spectacular tailback Jonathan Taylor this year, but the Badgers remain committed to the ground game, averaging 200 yards rushing per game.
“Probably what we ought to look at is a 12-man defense,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz joked when asked what it will take to slow the Wisconsin running game.
Ferentz has long been a not-so-secret admirer of Wisconsin’s brand of football. The Badgers wear teams out with little interest in any sizzle. Opponents have gained only 72 yards per game on the ground against Wisconsin this season, although three Badger games got wiped out by COVID-19 issues.
“We have to play our absolute best game,” Ferentz said of a Hawkeye team that has won five consecutive games, but none against teams with winning records.
“I have a great admiration for what they do, great respect for what they do. Bottom line is they're the winningest team on our side of the bracket the last five years. That says it all right there.”
The Hawkeyes, like most Big Ten teams, still have no idea who their opponent will be, or where the game will be played, in the so-called “Champions Week” on Dec. 19. Bowl games are also still in flux.
So that means seniors like Duncan and Jackson may be playing their final college game Saturday. If so, a win over Wisconsin would be the perfect capstone. It’s the only Big Ten team the Hawkeyes have not defeated in the past five years.
“It’s the same scheme they’ve been running,” Jackson said of a Wisconsin defense he’ll face for the fourth time. “Nothing crazy. They just play good team defense for the whole game.”
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Jackson arrived at Iowa from Michigan with a basketball background. He quickly realized how much he had to improve in order to crack the starting lineup, which then contained guys like current Buffalo Bill Ike Boettger.
Jackson went to work, believing that his time would come. He said he recently watched tape of his freshman year and “I didn’t look like I fit on the offensive line.”
Jackson praised his coaches for his quick rise to the top of the depth chart, but it also happened because of his natural talent at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds.
“Just having that drive to do the extra work, get my mind in the right spot,” Jackson said.
“I’ve loved being here.”
Duncan has enjoyed his five years in Iowa City so much that he said his plan is to return to live in the state some day. He endeared himself to Hawkeye fans immediately by hitting a game-winning field goal against Michigan in his freshman season.
Duncan lost his starting job to Miguel Recinos for two years after that, but has been an all-time Hawkeye great the past two seasons. He carries the best field-goal percentage in school history into his home finale, at 82% (50 of 61).
Duncan connected on four field goals in his previous game at Kinnick to help Iowa down Nebraska 26-20. He has loved tormenting the Cornhuskers, blowing kisses to the crowd last year after a game-winning field goal in Lincoln.
Duncan believes he is good enough to play in the NFL. He has never made a field goal longer than 50 yards at Iowa, but his 19 from 40-plus tied Nate Kaeding for the most in Hawkeye history.
His final game at Kinnick will provide Duncan with a new experience. In a game that figures to be closely contested, it may even be decided by Duncan’s right leg.
“I don’t think I’ve ever actually kicked in the snow before in a game setting,” said Duncan, who grew up in Texas and North Carolina.
“So I invite that challenge. I hope it comes.”
No. 25 WISCONSIN (2-2) at No. 18 IOWA (5-2)
- Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
- When: 2:35 p.m. Saturday
- TV: FS1 (Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman)
- Line: Badgers by 2
- Weather: 35 degrees and snow showers; wind from the north at 14 mph
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.