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The race for the Big Ten West is entering its home stretch as two of its juggernauts face off Saturday afternoon in Madison. The 18th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes travel to take on the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers. When this point spread opened over the summer as one of the games of the year, the Badgers were just 5.5-point favorite, but their impressive play to this point has them sitting at well over a touchdown favorite on Saturday. Both of these teams suffered their only two losses in back-to-back fashion, with Wisconsin still looking to bounce back from theirs in weeks eight and nine. With so much on the line for both programs, let’s take a deeper look at this Week 11 matchup.
Iowa Hawkeyes @ Wisconsin Badgers
Saturday, November 9th, 2019 – 4:00 pm EST
Wisconsin -9.5 O/U 38 (via PointsBet)
For the first time in the Paul Chryst era in Wisconsin, the Badgers are off of back-to-back losses and in desperate need of a win to get back on track. The first loss in their two-game slide was a shocking 23-24 defeat on the road in Illinois as nearly 30-point favorites.
The last time we saw this Badgers team against the aforementioned Buckeyes, they looked very pedestrian accounting for only 191 yards of total offense while allowing 431 yards and five touchdowns in a game that was never close. As a result, their previously top-ranked defense saw a bit of regression in the statistical rankings, falling to fourth in allowing 11.4 points per game. They still, however, dominate all teams not named Ohio State in yards per game at 225.6. One statistic they are still leading the FBS in is third-down percentage (22.4%), showing a consistent ability to teams off the field when it matters.
Unlike the Badgers, the Hawkeyes losses have come against stiff competition in Penn State and Michigan by five and seven points, respectively. The last time they saw the field prior to last week’s bye, the Hawkeyes blanked Northwestern on the road 20-0 as 7.5-point favorites. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley threw for 179 yards and a touchdown to place himself in second all-time in Iowa’s all-time passing touchdown list with 62.
Like Wisconsin, Iowa has relied heavily on its defensive unit who rank third in the FBS behind fellow Big Ten programs Ohio State and Penn State in yards allowed. Against the run, an area Wisconsin excels in behind stud running back Jonathan Taylor, Iowa ranks eighth in the nation in allowing just 89 yards per game. If Iowa wants to have a chance on Saturday afternoon, their fortune likely begins and ends with their ability to keep Taylor in check.
Like bookmakers have indicated with this exceptionally low total, I’m also struggling to find where the points come from in this one with two top-five defenses and mainly mediocre offenses. In their combined 16 games this season, the under has hit 11 times, and I see no reason this game should be different. For Stanley, a Wisconsin native, I expect him to be forced into decisions he otherwise wouldn’t make against a defense that is known for making even strong quarterbacks pedestrian. I could see this game being a ‘first one to 14 wins’ type of contest, so I’ll take the under five touchdowns.