Iowa football players will sit down for a team Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night, where the Hawkeyes will get a jumpstart on the holiday. With a game to play on Friday, Iowa will maintain its usual Friday routine on Thursday, with all the trimmings of a holiday feast pushed up one day as well. The Hawkeyes point to one player as the teammate most likely to enjoy the most of whatever meal is put in front of him. "Carl Davis,'' tight end Ray Hamilton said. "Without a question, it's Carl. He's just a big man. I wouldn't want to be the one taking him shopping for groceries.'' Offensive tackle Brandon Scherff believes he could give Davis a run for his dining dollar, but concedes that as one might suspect the linemen probably move to the front of the line when food is being consumed. "Carl can put it away,'' Scherff said. Davis didn't dispute the notion. "You should have seen me at the Outback Bowl last year when they took us to the restaurant for all that they had,'' Davis said. "I enjoy a good meal.'' One of 16 seniors on the Hawkeye roster, Davis said his family will celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday in Iowa City after attending Friday's game against Nebraska. He's looking forward to some homecoming from his mother and an aunt. "It's going to be a good time,'' Davis said. He also said one Hawkeye who people might not think of can hold his own at the dinner table as well. "Kevonte (Martin-Manley), he can put it away,'' Davis said. "It seems like he's eating something like 24 hours a day.'' Iowa's fine dining actually started after practice today. As part of its Heroes Game sponsorship, Hy-Vee feeds a meal to both the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers on their campuses on a day leading up to their annual trophy game. "The guys will not eat any better this year than what they will eat tonight,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this afternoon. "Our guys aren't going hungry this week.''
With a number of rivalry games on the schedule next weekend providing the potential for a shake-up on my ballot for the Associated Press college football, poll, this past weekend was relatively calm. Some of it had to do with scheduling. Alabama/Western Carolina, Georgia/Charleston Southern and games of a similar flavor are better suited for September and the results were pretty much predictable. The only team in my top 18 from last week's ballot to lose was Mississippi, which was blanked by Bret Bielema's Arkansas team that has seemingly turned a corner with consecutive shutouts over LSU and Ole Miss. The setback dropped Mississippi from ninth to 16th on my ballot for this week moving the teams I had in the 10th through 16th spots last week up one position. As has been the case throughout much of the season, the bottom six, seven spots have been a constant churn and that didn't change this week. With Nebraska, Notre Dame, Utah and USC all losing, I dumped them all out of my top 25 for the week. They're replaced - at least for now - but Minnesota, Louisville, Boise State and Clemson. I have no four-loss teams on the ballot and the only three-loss teams listed this week are Auburn at 14, Mississippi at 16, Oklahoma at 21, Minnesota at 22, Louisville at 23 and Clemson at 25. On the outside looking in, in no particular order, are Notre Dame, Utah, USC, Nebraska and Northern Illinois. Here is my ballot for this week's AP top 25:: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oregon 4. Mississippi State 5. Baylor 6. Ohio State 7. TCU 8. Michigan State 9. Georgia 10. UCLA 11. Kansas State 12. Wisconsin 13. Arizona 14. Auburn 15. Arizona State 16. Mississippi 17. Marshall 18. Georgia Tech 19. Colorado State 20. Missouri 21. Oklahoma 22. Minnesota 23. Louisville 24. Boise State 25. Clemson
So much for the 24-hour rule. You know the routine, good, bad or ugly, celebrate and/or recuperate from whatever happened on football field Saturday for 24 hours and the move on to the next one. Saturday, that became the 24-minute rule in the interview room just down the hall and around the corner from the Iowa locker room at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes had invested plenty in their match-up with the Badgers, the first game this season Iowa has shared the field with a rated opponent. It was a chance to make a statement. The Hawkeyes seethed at the notion it was some sort of moral victory to come close against Wisconsin. "We're not going there,'' quarterback Jake Rudock said following the 26-24 game. Where Iowa is going is back to the practice field today, taking a 7-4 record into its regular season finale Friday against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, dealing with issues of their own after letting a 21-7 lead slip away in a 28-24 loss to Minnesota, have already caught the attention of several Hawkeyes. Carl Davis said Iowa is in need of a quick change of mindset, forgetting about what took place Saturday and moving on to a Nebraska team that will be looking to end a two-game slide when it arrives at Kinnick. "All this disappointment and anger, we're going to unleash it on Nebraska,'' linebacker Quinton Alston said. "It's senior night and I'm not going out on a loss."
Grading the Iowa football team's performance in today's 26-24 loss to 14th-rated Wisconsin: OFFENSE: B Iowa went down swinging today against Wisconsin, following a slow start with its best half of offensive football this season. The Hawkeyes put the ball in the air out of necessity after falling behind 19-3 and quarterback Jake Rudock and the 10 guys around him found the necessary rhythm. The Rudock who had a case of happy feet at times in the first half was exceptional after the break. His passes were well-timed and precise. His receivers were where they needed to be and his line gave him the needed time to work against a stout Badgers defense. It all added up to 412 yards for Iowa, the most allowed by the nation's best defense this season. Iowa averaged 3.6 yards per carry on its way to 101 yards on the ground, not quite enough to sustain the two brief drives the Hawkeyes had in the second quarter. Iowa turned the ball over just once, on a Mark Weisman fumble on the second play of the game. The Badgers were held to a field goal there, but as the final score indicates the margin for error on this day was slim. DEFENSE: B- Melvin Gordon did run for 200 yards, but that was less than half what he piled up on Nebraska a week earlier. The Hawkeyes made the Heisman candidate work for his yards and with the exception of an 88-yard gain which led to a field goal, Iowa did a decent job of keeping the junior in check. The extra attention the Hawkeyes placed on Gordon did allow other Badgers to beat Iowa. Tanner McEvoy found room to run for a 45-yard score in the first half and the Hawkeye struggled in both the second and fourth quarters to get Joel Stave off the field on third down. Given the challenge presented by an offensive line that averaged 321 pounds per player, that eventually took a toll which ultimately proved to be the difference in the game. SPECIAL TEAMS: C- Iowa matched Wisconsin's average of 16 yards on kick returns, Marshall Koehn hit his only field goal attempt and lone PAT try and the Hawkeyes' Jordan Canzeri ran for a two-point conversion. Iowa's punters continued to struggle, with Connor Kornbrath delivering a 31-yard effort in his lone attempt and Dillon Kidd averaging 35.5 including a long of 42 on two tries. They operated under pressure, but given the near-ideal late November weather with temperatures hovering around 50 and a south breeze at 3, Iowa needed more. Only one of its three punts was downed inside the 20. The communication issues on Iowa's second two-point conversion try which led to Iowa burning what could have been a welcomed timeout in the final minutes of the game. Coach Kirk Ferentz said following the game in retrospect he should have headed down the sideline to talk with officials instead of angling himself toward the field, but the confusion did little to help Iowa. COACHING: C The communication issues noted above impact this one. The game plan was solid. Iowa needed to keep Wisconsin's offense off the field and the combination of a run game blended with a short passing game to work the clock and move the chains is about the best way possible to keep Melvin Gordon in a place where he can do no damage. Iowa opened things up when needed after the Badgers built a 16-point lead and the Hawkeyes had Wisconsin scrambling as the game moved into the final quarter. Iowa ran just 58 plays in the game, two more than Wisconsin, and rushed 28 times while passing 30 times while outgaining the Badgers by five yards.
From the lifts of frigid early January mornings to the summer sweat at the onset of fall camp, it all comes down to Saturday for the Iowa football. Simply put, it's now or never. When the Hawkeyes take the field at 2:30 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium and welcome Wisconsin, Iowa's season boils down to a 60-minute effort against a Badgers team chasing dreams of its own. Win, and the Hawkeyes live to play another week in the Big Ten race. Lose, and the Black Friday game with Nebraska becomes a trophy game for two teams that have let their desired prize slip away. This is probably the biggest game Iowa has played at Kinnick Stadium since Wisconsin showed up there in 2010, executed a fake punt midway through the fourth quarter and put the ball in Montee Ball's hands for an 8-yard score which rallied the Badgers for a 31-30 win. The match-up between top-15 teams sent Iowa on its way to the Insight Bowl that season. A couple of Iowa fifth-year seniors remember the electricity that day at Kinnick Stadium that day, energy they hope will be there again Saturday. "The crowd was into it, a great environment, and something we'll need again,'' receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. "Playing at Kinnick is always special and that was one of those games I'll remember, although I'd rather forget the outcome.'' Senior Mark Weisman is hoping for another "special'' day in Iowa City on Saturday. "It's a huge game,'' Weisman said. "It's a huge game. If people can't get up for this game, get ready for this game, I don't know what they get ready for. This is why you play college football. It's fun stuff, good stuff. I'm excited for it.''
Four things Iowa and Wisconsin can do to help position themselves for a win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium: IOWA (7-3, 4-2) 1. Establish the run. The best defense against the Badgers may be an effective, clock-chewing offense that is built around success on the ground. The Hawkeyes averaged 5.5 yards per carry last week against Illinois. By comparison, Iowa averaged 3.1 yards per rush in its three losses this season. Those two-plus yards, especially on first- and second-down situations, make a difference and against a stout Wisconsin defense - not a Wisconsin-Stout defense - the ability to move the chains with extended drives and an effective approach on the ground will matter. 2. Be something special in the air. The Hawkeyes can help themselves with an effective, inclusive passing attack. Iowa tight ends returned to an active role in the air game last week and the Hawkeyes will need that and more against the Badgers. Jake Duzey and Ray Hamilton provide options from the tight end spot that can be complemented by receivers Tevaun Smith, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Jacob Hillyer, Matt VandeBerg and Damond Powell. It's going to take a collective effort, but Iowa must get something out of its passing game. 3. Deliver on defense. Iowa has had more than its share of issues against the run this season. The Hawkeyes cannot afford a repeat of the communications issues which Minnesota to 291 yards on the ground against Iowa two weeks ago. It starts up front, where Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis need to hold up against double teams and ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier must get off blocks and limit the Badgers' the ability to get to the edge with their run game. Iowa linebackers will need to find a consistency and cohesion in their performance that has lacked at times this season. 4. Seize the moment. Arguably, Saturday's game at Kinnick Stadium is the biggest the Hawkeyes have played there since Wisconsin won a battle between top-15 teams there in 2010. The Hawkeyes' drive to reach Indianapolis at the Big Ten title game comes down to the end result today. A win against Wisconsin is the only requirement that matters when Iowa takes the field. With a loss, the Badgers secure their spot as the West Division representative at Lucas Oil Stadium in two weeks. WISCONSIN (8-2, 5-1) 1. Establish the run. Built much like Iowa with a physical approach to the game, the Badgers' offensive line has had its way with opponents this season. They have allowed not only Melvin Gordon to lead the country with his average of 190.9 rushing yards per game, but also have allowed sophomore Corey Clement to rank ninth in the Big Ten with an 74.2 rushing yards per game as part of a conference-leading 351.2 yards per game the Badgers manage on the ground. 2. Continue collective success. The Badgers defense isn't a star-filled group, but it has been more than effective with its cohesion. Wisconsin joins Penn State as the only Big Ten teams holding opponents on average below 100 rushing yards per game. Badgers opponents have also held opponents to a 45.3 percent completion rate through the air. Strong safety Michael Caputo leads the Badgers in tackles at 7.3 per game, while linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert on the outside and Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter inside provide the heart of a 3-4 look. Wisconsin has 32 sacks on the season, seven more than it managed during the entire 2013 season with Biegel and Landisch ranking sixth and ninth in the league in sacks. Biegel is second in the Big Ten with 14 tackles for a loss, part of a collection of 73 so far this season by Wisconsin. The Badgers abilities to force opponents into third-and-long situations has been big. 3. Keep on shuffling. Wisconsin has found success with a unique use of two quarterbacks. Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy have been rotating within the same series in recent games, maximizing the use of Stave's passing abilities and McEvoy's strength in the zone read. It's a combination that has worked and given defenses something else to prepare for as they ready for Wisconsin. Stave has seemingly moved beyond his early-season issues, completing better than 60 percent of his passes in three of the Badgers' last four games. 4. Win the one-dimensional war. Like most Iowa-Wisconsin football games - at least those played since Barry Alvarez showed up in Madison in 1990 - this one will be decided in the trenches. The team that successfully forces its opponent into a one-dimensional team will likely walk away with the brass bull the teams have shared 4-4 in the times they have met for the traveling trophy. If Wisconsin can force Iowa into a passing mode, much like Maryland did in the second half the game in College Park last month, the Badgers will position themselves to haul the hardware home to Madison.
What type of challenge is the Iowa football team up against this weekend? Try this one on for size. Junior Nate Meier has enjoyed an effective season for the Hawkeyes. He's fifth on the team in tackles, five in tackles for a loss and second on the team in quarterback hurries while making a general nuisance of himself from his lineup spot at defensive end. He's getting the most out of his 6-foot-2, 244-pound frame. Lining up across from larger opponents is nothing new. This week's situation, however, is a bit different. Meier will give up 89 pounds. Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein stands 6-8 and tips the scales at 333 pounds. Coach Kirk Ferentz even has a few words of advice for Meier. "My recommendation would be to stay real low, consistently,'' Ferentz said. "But, that's the name of the game. ... If you're not a big guy, then you better learn how to play with leverage. And certainly, this would be a good week to make sure you're on top of your game.'' Havenstein is part of a traditionally big Wisconsin offensive front five which on average stands just over 6-foot-5 and weighs 321 pounds. Ferentz said that type of size has worked well for the Badgers over time, much like the use of slightly smaller lines built around solid foot speed and technical excellence have worked for the Hawkeyes. "There's a lot of ways to be effective and good at what you do, and they certainly have a formula that really has worked well,'' Ferentz said. "That's been a constant with their program, at least during my association.'' Ferentz recalls watching the Alvarez-coached, Bill Callahan-directed Badgers fronts during the 1990s when he was working in the NFL. "I used to enjoy watching the way those guys. They've had a long tradition of that,'' he said. But size isn't the only route to success. "It's like Nate Meier in reverse. You are what you are physically,'' Ferentz said. "But, there's a lot that goes into being a good blocker and some people do it better than others.'' And that can lead to playing with an edge, something that Meier will be looking to accomplish Saturday. "He's going to have to come off and rock. He's going to have to come off with some violence,'' defensive end Drew Ott said, describing the aggressive nature of Meier's approach to the position. That gives him a chance to neutralize the challenge lining up across from him, an important component to Iowa's chances of slowing a Wisconsin offense which has averaged 505.2 yards during the five-game win streak which followed the Badgers' 20-14 loss at Northwestern.
Don't expect a quick decision on whether Derrick Willies will be rejoining the Iowa football team. The Hawkeyes have a couple of pretty important games to play, beginning with facing their first ranked opponent of the season when Wisconsin visits Kinnick Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Nebraska drops by a week from Friday as well so coach Kirk Ferentz has plenty of things to deal with beyond the desires of a redshirt freshman who walked away from the program nearly a month ago now deciding that he wants to rejoin the team. If it happens, don't expect it to happen this season. There are more than 100 reasons in the Hawkeye locker room why Ferentz shouldn't rush to a decision, players who have been committed to being a part of the team and have worked toward collaborative goals and objectives since Iowa returned from the Outback Bowl in January. Willies chose to walk away from being part of that. Teammates said they tried to talk him out of it, but quarterback C.J. Beathard said Willies' decision at the time seemed "firm.'' I get that Willies had a lot on his mind at that time as well, mostly a health situation involving his father. He expressed a desire to be closer to his biological father in Arizona, and requested a transfer opportunity which was granted. His father now plans to move closer to his son, something Willies considers a workable solution. I suspect Ferentz may one day sit down and talk again Willies, searching for a level of commitment that might afford him a second opportunity. If he refuses to allow Willies to return, he runs the risk of a talented player taking his game elsewhere and with success, that only amps up the volume of critics. If he allows Willies to return, there are no guarantees that the drama that has followed Willies from prep programs in Burlington and Rock Island and now to the college level at Iowa won't continue. Stay tuned, to borrow a phrase that Willies wrote on his Facebook post announcing his departure, "things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story.''
All four teams at the top of the West Division standings the Big Ten football race still have plenty to play for, including Iowa. The Hawkeyes can still earn their way to the Big Ten championship game, but they're not alone in having a path to reach Indianapolis. Here's a breakdown as Iowa prepares to host division-leading Wisconsin and Minnesota prepares for a road trip to Nebraska this week: 1. If Wisconsin and Nebraska both win this week, the Badgers will be the West Division representative at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 6. 2. If Iowa and Nebraska win this week, Minnesota is eliminated from title game contention. The winner of the Black Friday game between the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers would earn a share of the divisional title. If that scenario plays out, Iowa would earn a spot in Indianapolis if it were to beat Nebraska. The Cornhuskers would advance with a win over the Hawkeyes and a Minnesota win over Wisconsin. 3,. If Iowa and Minnesota win this week, Nebraska is eliminated from title-game contention. The Gophers would then advance with a win over Wisconsin, while the Hawkeyes would reach Indy with a win over Nebraska and a Badgers win over Minnesota. If Nebraska defeats Iowa in that scenario, then the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game moves on to Indy. 4. If Wisconsin and Minnesota win this week, the Nov. 29 game battle for the Axe at Camp Randall Stadium also becomes a winner-take-all game for the title game berth. Got it?
There is plenty of movement on my ballot for this week's Associated Press college football poll. Five of my top seven teams from a week ago are holding down the spots I voted them in a week ago and the other two traded places. But, beyond that only one team is in the same position I selected them in a week ago. I continue to vote Florida State in the No. 1 spot with Oregon third and Baylor, Ohio State and TCU in the fifth through seventh spots. The Ducks and Bears were idle this week, the Buckeyes earned a solid win at Minnesota and the Horned Frogs held off Kansas. I did move Alabama into the two spot and dropped Mississippi State into the fourth position following their 25-20 game yesterday. Beyond that, things change. Three of the four teams I had in the 8-12 spots a week ago lost - Michigan State was the lone winner there with a 37-15 win at Maryland - and four other teams down the ballot also were defeated over the weekend. This week, I have Michigan State, Mississippi and Georgia rounding out my top 10. Wisconsin, which visits Iowa at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, jumped from 21 to 13 with its impressive win over Nebraska, which I dropped from 11th to 19th following its 59-24 loss in Madison. Arizona State and Auburn took similar falls after losing Oregon State and Georgia, respectively. Losses drop Duke, Clemson and Minnesota off my ballot for the time being, creating spots for Oklahoma, Utah and USC this week. Still on my radar, but just off my ballot this week in no particular order are Louisville, Minnesota, Clemson, Duke, Boise State and Northern Illinois. Here is a look at my ballot for the AP poll which will be released later today: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oregon 4. Mississippi State 5. Baylor 6. Ohio State 7. TCU 8. Michigan State 9. Mississippi 10. Georgia 11. UCLA 12. Kansas State 13. Wisconsin 14. Arizona 15. Auburn 16. Arizona State 17. Marshall 18. Georgia Tech 19. Nebraska 20. Colorado State 21. Missouri 22. Notre Dame 23. Oklahoma 24. Utah 25. USC