Wisconsin-Iowa Preview

BY foxsports • November 18, 2014

(AP) - Iowa thought it had Melvin Gordon in its grasp back when he was in high school.

The Hawkeyes will likely find themselves chasing Gordon all over again in Saturday's visit from the 14th-ranked Badgers.

Last weekend, Gordon gave Iowa yet another tantalizing glimpse into what could have been if he had stuck to his verbal commitment and played for coach Kirk Ferentz. Gordon rushed for an FBS-record 408 yards on just 25 carries - in three quarters, no less - as Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) routed Nebraska 59-24.

Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards (1,909) and touchdowns (25) and is on the short list of Heisman Trophy front-runners heading into this weekend's pivotal Big Ten West game at Iowa.

''It's going to take a really - I don't want to say perfect because that puts probably an unreal pressure on you - but it's going to take our best football. We're going to have to play really well at all 11 positions,'' Ferentz said about stopping Gordon.

The Badgers put themselves in the driver's seat to play in the Big Ten title game by beating the Cornhuskers, but a loss to Iowa would give the Hawkeyes a decent shot at heading to Indianapolis.

Wisconsin can wrap up the West by beating Iowa if Nebraska beats Minnesota earlier in the day. The Hawkeyes, who host Nebraska in their finale but have lost to the Golden Gophers, will be rooting for the Cornhuskers as well.

What has to be concerning for Iowa (7-3, 4-2) is that Nebraska's run defense had been playing well - right before it ran into Gordon, of course.

Iowa's rush defense has been up and down since August. The Hawkeyes are very strong up front, with tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and end Drew Ott in consideration for All-Big Ten honors. But they've been forced to lean on young linebackers behind them, and the results have been predictably spotty.

Iowa did look much better stopping the run in last week's win at Illinois.

Granted, the Fighting Illini were more focused on throwing than running since they finally got quarterback Wes Lunt back. But Iowa's defense wouldn't let Illinois do either, holding them to just 235 yards - and just 88 on the ground - of a 30-14 win.

The key for the Hawkeyes could be to simply keep the ball out of Gordon's hands as much as possible.

Iowa's offense finally showed it could control the clock against Illinois. The Hawkeyes held the ball for nearly 36 minutes and gained a season-high 587 yards, and senior running back Mark Weisman cracked 100 yards for the first time in 2014.

But Wisconsin will be the toughest defense the Hawkeyes have faced this season.

''They pose a lot of challenges,'' Ferentz said. ''They play with great enthusiasm, toughness. They're where they should be all the time.''

In fact, it's been nearly as impressive as Gordon during Wisconsin's five-game winning streak. The Badgers have given up 202.4 yards per game since Oct. 11, more than 30 fewer than the second-best FBS team in that span.

The defense is second in yards per passing attempt (4.39) and third in yards per carry (2.49) over that stretch.

Iowa actually did a nice job stopping Gordon in Kinnick Stadium a year ago. Gordon ran for just 62 yards on 17 carries, but James White had 132 on 19 tries as Wisconsin pulled away for a 28-9 win.

If the Hawkeyes can slow the nation's top running back, they might head into the season finale against the Huskers with a shot at the division title.

''He's strong, powerful and fast. He has breakaway speed and he's got moves,'' Ott said. ''He's the total package.''

Iowa has lost eight straight to ranked opponents, totaling 16 points in its last two at Iowa City.