Published October 30, 2013
| Sports Network
Iowa City, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 22nd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers take aim at their first three-game win streak of the season on Saturday afternoon, as they visit the Iowa Hawkeyes in Big Ten Conference action.
Wisconsin played just two games in the month of October, but both resulted in impressive victories -- taking down Northwestern at home on Oct. 12, 35-6, and going on the road on Oct. 19 to topple an upstart Illinois squad, 56-32. The Badgers are 3-1 in the Big Ten, a game behind Ohio State for first place in the Leaders Division.
Even with the triumph over the Illini under their belt, the Badgers have been shaky away from Madison this season, losing two of three on the road.
"The first road victory of the season for us is very important," Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said following the Illinois game. "It was a good solid win against a good solid team that's won some ball games this year."
Iowa started the season an impressive 4-1 before slipping into a two-game slide with tough losses to Michigan State (26-14) and Ohio State (34-24), but it improved to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in conference with a 17-10 overtime win versus Northwestern last week.
"This is a real tribute to our guys, especially the older guys," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said following the dramatic victory. "It's great to be able to walk in the locker room and see those guys happy and feeling good about what they just accomplished."
The storied series between these two, which dates all the way back to 1894, has been remarkably close over the years, with the teams knotted at 42-42-2. Wisconsin won the latest meeting in Iowa City in 2010, 31-30.
Wisconsin boasts one of the nation's best offenses, ranking 16th in scoring (39.9 ppg) and 11th in yardage (513.6 ypg), and the bulk of its success can be put on the shoulders of the nation's fifth-leading rusher.
Melvin Gordon has been a man possessed this season. The sophomore tailback has rushed for 1,012 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 107 carries, good enough for an FBS-leading 9.5 yards per carry, which has definitely gotten the attention of his coach.
"(I've) been around a lot of good running backs that have been on the teams that I've been involved with, but nobody quite as dynamic in the run game as Melvin is," Andersen said. "His natural ability is unbelievable, and he's done a great job of developing himself, but he wants to be even a better runner between the tackles. He wants to work on his protections. He knows he's got a lot to work on."
Even with Gordon doing his share of the damage, there's still plenty of carries to go around in the UW backfield. James White actually has one more rushing attempt than does Gordon, and he has gone for 672 yards and seven touchdowns, while Corey Clement adds 407 yards and five scores.
Such a potent ground game has helped take pressure off of sophomore quarterback Joel Stave, who has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,486 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Stave has great chemistry with Jared Abbrederis, who ranks third in the Big Ten in both catches (43) and yards (752), while scoring five touchdowns. White is the next best receiving option, catching 21 balls out of the backfield.
Wisconsin has an outstanding defense to support its high-scoring offense, as it ranks second in the conference in both scoring defense (15.9 ppg) and total defense (285.0 ypg).
Chris Borland leads the unit with 57 tackles, nearly double the effort of his closest teammate. Borland is working through a hamstring injury but is listed as probable for this matchup. Sojour Shelton has three of the team's five interceptions.
Iowa's offense has been solid this season, but not by the lofty standards of the Big Ten, as it ranks 11th in scoring with 27.4 ppg.
Jake Rudock calls the shots under center, and he has thrown for 1,616 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he is also a factor in the run game with 169 yards and five scores.
Mark Weisman (732 yards, three TDs) is a true workhorse at running back, as evidenced by his 149 carries which are the 15th-most in the nation. Damon Bullock also gets work with 92 carries for 364 yards and a score.
Kevonte Martin-Manley is the team's top receiver with 32 receptions for 276 yards and two scores, and he is also dangerous as a punt returner with 242 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 returns.
The biggest reason that the Hawkeyes are sitting above .500 this late in the season is due to their strong defense, which is situated third behind Wisconsin in both scoring (15.9 ppg) and yardage (320.5 ypg).
Anthony Hitchens has performed like a classic Big Ten linebacker with 79 tackles and 7.5 TFL. James Morris is in the midst of an All-Conference type season as well with 64 stops, 7.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, three picks and a forced fumble, while B.J. Lowery also has three interceptions to go with 12 passes defended.