Hawkeyes Gameday: Five keys to victory at Wisconsin

Rick Brown
Iowa's Matt VandeBerg pulls in a 28-yard pass during the Hawkeyes' game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

MADISON, Wis. — Five keys to Iowa (4-0) trumping No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1) for the Heartland Trophy on Saturday:

Mr. Fourth Quarter

If Saturday’s game is close heading into the fourth quarter, that bodes well for Iowa. Quarterback C.J. Beathard leads the Big Ten with his 142.6 quarterback rating in the final period. Beathard has completed 14 of 17 passes in the last 15 minutes of games, good for 206 yards and a touchdown. He also has six carries for 35 yards in the fourth quarter.

Twice, Beathard has led the Hawkeyes to game-winning drives in the final quarter. He was four-for-four passing for 46 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown to Riley McCarron at Iowa State. He also had three carries for 27 yards in the final drive against Pittsburgh, setting up Marshall Koehn’s game-winning 57-yard field goal.

Red-zone success

Iowa scored points on 78.6 percent of its trips inside the red zone last season — 36 touchdowns, eight field goals.

“We’ve got a lot of things that were on our to-do list since January, but that was one of the areas we didn’t do well enough last year,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said of red-zone success. “We’ve spent a lot of time on it in terms of scheme, but more importantly, in practice.”

So far, so good. Iowa ranks 18th nationally in the red zone this season, scoring 94 percent of the time. The Hawkeyes have scored 14 touchdowns and a field goal in 16 trips inside the opponents’ 20.

Brown: Iowa-Wisconsin a brawl, not a beauty contest

Trophy room

Iowa went winless in four regular-season trophy games last season. That streak was snapped with a 31-17 victory at Iowa State, which earned the Hawkeyes possession of the Cy-Hawk Trophy.

Iowa will be trying to make it 2-for-2 Saturday at Wisconsin, where the Heartland Trophy is on the line. Wisconsin has a 5-4 edge since the Heartland Trophy became part of the series in 2004. That includes three straight victories, all played in Iowa City. Iowa won the last time the teams played in Madison, in 2009. Wisconsin has won nine straight trophy games since that 2009 clash.

Cracking the Top 25

Wisconsin enters Saturday’s game ranked 19th in The Associated Press poll. Iowa is receiving votes. And a victory would probably get the Hawkeyes in the Top 25 for the first time since 2010.

Iowa was ranked 24th when No. 7 Ohio State came to Kinnick Stadium and escaped with a 20-17 victory on Nov. 20, 2010. The Hawkeyes had been ranked at least one week in eight of nine seasons starting in 2002. The exception was 2007.

Four of those teams ended the season ranked in the Top 10 — eighth in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and seventh in 2009.

The Wisconsin challenge, and how Iowa can overcome it

Streaks on the line

Both defenses have been stingy for much of the season. Iowa is one of just two teams nationally to not allow a rushing touchdown. The Hawkeyes are surrendering just 84 yards rushing per game. Wisconsin is averaging 188.2 rushing yards a game and has scored nine rushing touchdowns. The Badgers are coming off their best game on the ground, gaining 326 yards in 54 carries against Hawaii last week.

In addition to winning its last 10 games at Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin is the only team in the nation to have not allowed a touchdown over the past three weeks. The Badgers have outscored Miami of Ohio, Troy and Hawaii by a combined 114-3 margin. Wisconsin has not allowed a touchdown in the last 188 minutes, 2 seconds of play. Iowa scored a touchdown on its first drive of the game against Illinois State and North Texas. The Hawkeyes are averaging 37.8 points a game.