Leistikow's Hawkeyes mailbag: What Iowa can copy from the BYU blueprint to beat Badgers

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

How did Brigham Young pull it off?

The Cougars cracked the code and stunned Wisconsin 24-21 on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. And it’s a formula the Iowa Hawkeyes can repeat in this Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. Kinnick Stadium showdown against the Badgers.

BYU defensive lineman Merrill Taliauli (54) and offensive lineman Austin Hoyt (71) celebrate their 24-21 win at Wisconsin. How did they pull it off? Limiting mistakes was a good start.

The crowd on our Wednesday Hawk Central Facebook Live chat was certainly in big-game mode, with a lot of questions about X’s and O’s. Their Hawkeyes have a chance to gain an early inside track in the race to win the Big Ten Conference's West Division.

In examining BYU’s impressive win, three things stood out that Iowa can copy .

No. 1: Lots of pre-snap motion.

The Cougars only rushed 28 times but netted 191 yards. That’s because they were able to uncork six runs of more than 10 yards (12, 44, 13, 14, 19 and 46) — often by deploying receivers as real (or fake) running threats. That’s notable, because Iowa had zero runs of more than 10 yards against Wisconsin a year ago.

Iowa center Keegan Render noticed on film that BYU’s pre-snap movement “got their linebackers kind of running and thinking a little bit. And then they hit some inside zones on them off that motion.”

With the likely return of speedy receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, look for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to utilize jet-sweep action to keep Wisconsin’s defense guessing.

No. 2: Smart quarterback play.

BYU didn’t commit a turnover at Wisconsin. Quarterback Tanner Mangum only ran once, but he was adept at side-stepping blitzing linebackers. He was content to throw the ball incomplete.

If Nate Stanley can be prepared to get rid of the ball quickly — understanding that no yards is better than minus-9 on a sack — that’ll be a big factor.

No. 3: Force Alex Hornibrook to throw deep.

Wisconsin’s quarterback threw two pick-sixes to Josh Jackson against the Hawkeyes a year ago. The recipe is there to force another one.

BYU’s defensive line held its own against Wisconsin’s impressive offensive line. As a result, Hornibrook completed only one pass longer than 17 yards. He threw a hurried interception against a four-man rush. Iowa’s defensive line is better.


Among the other stuff that came up during Facebook Live:

TOPIC: Will the use of tempo work against Wisconsin?

Iowa went hurry-up for seven official snaps against Northern Iowa with effectiveness. It can work again against the Badgers. A big benefit of tempo is it doesn’t allow a defense to alter personnel.

Let’s say Iowa converts a third-and-7 against Wisconsin’s nickel package (extra defensive back). Don’t be surprised to see Stanley hurry to the line and try to take advantage of that. Iowa likes to run the ball out of three-wide receiver formations.

TOPIC: Is there less concern about Iowa’s linebacker play vs. Jonathan Taylor?

The inexperienced Hawkeye linebackers answered the call against Iowa State’s David Montgomery (17 carries, 44 yards) in Week 2. Now comes the nation’s second-leading rusher in Taylor, at 171.7 yards per game.

“I mentioned (Montgomery) might be the best in the country,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “If he's not, it might be the one we're playing this week."

One big difference: Wisconsin’s offensive line is exponentially better than Iowa State’s. So, there is plenty of Hawkeye concern.

Kristian Welch and Jack Hockaday need to have their best games as Hawkeyes, because they’ll have to fight through more blocks than they did against the Cyclones.

TOPIC: Besides Stanley, who is Iowa’s most important player Saturday?

It's Noah Fant, the preseason all-American tight end … who had zero catches last year at Wisconsin.

A year ago, Fant had a third-quarter deep pass from Stanley hit him in the right hand — a tough catch, but not impossible — in what could’ve been a 70-yard touchdown with Iowa trailing 17-14. Two snaps later, Wisconsin scored a defensive touchdown.

Fant, the athletic junior, has to be on his game Saturday. For Iowa to move the chains, he has to be consistently better than linebackers he’ll either be tasked to block (in the run game) or burn (in the pass game).

TOPIC: Is this Iowa’s biggest game since the 2015 season?

Absolutely. The past two seasons, early slip-ups (2016, at home to North Dakota State and Northwestern; 2017, a 1-3 Big Ten start) sapped significance from midseason Iowa-Wisconsin matchups. The 2018 Hawkeyes enter this one 3-0 and with all their goals in their control.

Win this, and you’re the Big Ten West front-runner. Lose this, and it’ll likely take a perfect finish and outside help to rule the West.

The last four Iowa-Wisconsin winners have won the West.

It's really as big (and as simple) as that.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.