Nov. 1, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
When Wisconsin’s Dezmen Southward looks at the Iowa offense, he sees a “deceptively athletic” and “deceptively fast” quarterback in Jake Rudock who has been making some “big-time throws.”
Looking beyond the black and gold of the Hawkeyes, he may also see the navy blue and gold of the St. Thomas Aquinas High School Raiders in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Southward and Rudock are alums.
“I didn’t see much of him in high school,” Southward admitted.
That’s because Southward played only one year of football at Aquinas and Ryan Becker was the starting quarterback during his senior season in 2008. Rudock was then a sophomore.
Becker led Aquinas to a 15-0 record and national championship before taking off for the Ivy League and Penn. He wound up walking on at Florida State.
As senior, Rudock matched that ’08 run by leading Aquinas to another perfect season (15-0) and the 2010 national championship. Overall, the school has won seven state crowns in Florida.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” Southward said, “in what we’ve been able to do as a high school sending players to colleges and what many of those players have been able to do in making it to the pros.”
Nobody had more players on NFL rosters to start the 2013 season than Aquinas, which had six: Geno Atkins, Giovani Bernard, Marcus Gilbert, Leonard Hankerson, Major Wright and Sam Young.
Miami Norland also had six; Pahokee (Fla.) High School had five. Two years ago, Aquinas, which plays its home games in Brian Piccolo Memorial Stadium, led the nation with nine alums in the NFL.
Southward said that there’s some “high school pride” in knowing so many Aquinas players have been successful, including two of his UW teammates, tailback James White and linebacker Conor O’Neill.
When White was a senior at Aquinas, Rudock was a junior and the starting quarterback. “Obviously,” Southward said, “Rudock has turned into a pretty darn good player as well.”
Of some note is the fact that Rudock is 2-0 in trophy games with wins over Iowa State (Cy-Hawk) and Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale). It’s noteworthy since the Heartland Trophy is on the line Saturday.
“He has a lot of arm,” Southward said. “He has been making some big-time throws as far as being on the far hash and throwing to the opposite side of the field. That takes a pretty powerful arm.
“I think he’s deceptively athletic. Sometimes when plays break down, he gets outside of the pocket and picks up first downs. He’s a deceptively fast; another part of his game you have to respect.”
The Hawkeyes have a no-frills offense that revolves around the power running of Mark Weisman (6-foot-0, 236) and Damon Bullock (6-0, 200). Combined, they’re averaging 137 rushing yards per game.
“They’re tough, really tough,” Southward said. “They play within the scheme of the game. You see a lot of guys who aren’t content -- they want to break a touchdown on every carry.
“Not these guys. They’re perfectly content with picking up four or five yards and it shows in the way they run. We’re going to have to fight force with force.
“It’s going to take a lot to bring these guys down so we have to get a lot of hats to the ball because they move their feet on contact. It’s pretty impressive.”
Weisman is a workhorse. He had 35 carries against Iowa State, the highest single-game total in the Big Ten this season. Overall, he has 149 rushes; 41 more than White and 42 more than Melvin Gordon.
During his film study, Southward noticed how Weisman and Bullock keep churning their legs. “You see a run that should be stopped for one yard,” he said, “and somehow they get three or four.”
It’s no secret where Iowa wants to attack, either. While right tackle Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 300) is solid, Weisman and Bullock like to run behind left tackle Brandon Scherff, a 6-5, 315-pound junior.
Scherff has become one of the fastest-rising prospects on draft boards. He’s ranked No. 24 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board. Kiper, the ESPN draft analyst, cited his “nastiness” and called him “particularly special as a run-blocker.”
Southward has seen enough of Scherff to agree with everything that is being written about him. “Both of those guys are legit NFL tackles,” he said. “They’ve got great strikes and they’re really athletic.”
This looms as a strength-on-strength matchup: Wisconsin’s front seven vs. Iowa’s offensive line and tight ends: C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 265), Ray Hamilton (6-5, 252) and Jake Duzey (6-4, 245).
“Those guys are going to get after it,” Southward said excitedly. “It should be a great battle up front. I look forward to coming down hill on some of those plays.”
The Badgers have faced a multitude of spread offenses -- each with its own personality -- where “tackling in space” has been stressed. Iowa is more conventional and “tackling in numbers” is crucial.
“They’re going to run what they run,” said Southward. “They’re not really into deception, not really into the spread. They have a little bit of it, but not very much.
“They will run the ball down your throat and they will use play-action and take a shot (deep). That’s basically Wisconsin offense and big-boy football, for sure.
“Every time we’ve played against them in the past it has been an absolute dog fight. This is one of those games where it’s force on force.
“They want to run the ball -- we want to stop it
“We want to run the ball -- they want to stop it.
“It’s really simple -- may the best team win,” Southward concluded. “That will be the team that executes the best, the team that is more physical and the team that makes the fewest mistakes.”
• • • •
Wisconsin center Dallas Lewallen lingered after Tuesday’s practice to take some extra snaps against scout teamer Logan Schmidt, who was lined up over the ball in a tilt or shade technique.
Iowa utilizes a tilted nose tackle.
“We haven’t seen that a whole lot. We’ve seen some shade, but not as much as Iowa plays,” said Lewallen, a first-year starter out of Berlin, Wis. “Their base defense is to play that shade.”
It can be disastrous to an offense if the center can’t control the defender over him. One of the most disruptive players Iowa has ever cast in that role was Mitch King, a converted linebacker.
The Badgers couldn’t block him. Or didn’t. In 2005, King had four tackles for loss and two sacks against them. In 2006, he had eight tackles, seven solo. In 2007, he had seven tackles and two TFLs.
In 2008, he was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year. So others couldn’t block him, either. King is still a prime example of how an aggressive tilted nose tackle can impact the game.
The Hawkeyes will also stunt with its defensive front. Whether it’s the shade or the 3-technique, Lewallen will get a heavy dose of Louis Trinca-Pasat (6-3, 290) and Carl Davis (6-5, 315).
“I’ll be trying to be as fundamentally sound as possible -- have good steps, have good hand placement, have good head placement,” said the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Lewallen, a redshirt junior.
“Playing physical is something that we like to be known for up front and that’s what they are. If you turn on the tape of past Wisconsin-Iowa games, it has always been physical in some respect.”
Lewallen has never played in Kinnick Stadium, one of the loudest in the Big Ten. This week, the UW offense practiced inside the McClain Facility to better simulate the potential noise level Saturday.
“You have to be able to hear the quarterback’s cadence and hear his hand clap,” said Lewallen, who didn’t play at Ohio State because of an injury. “So we have to be tuned into what’s going on.
“It’s going to be a different atmosphere for a lot of us.
“But we have to play our game -- do what we do -- and play physical.”
Wisconsin offensive line coach T.J. Woods feels that Lewallen is best suited for this type of opponent because “he adds some physicality” to the center position.
“It’s something we’re going to need to be this week, for sure; these guys are a physical crew,” Woods said. “You always know what you’re going to get when you play them.
“They take pride in being physical. It was no different in 2000 than it is today in 2013. They want to take the fight to you, which is good. To me, it’s the way you should play.”
Woods has seen the Hawkeyes from the perspective of a player. In 2000, he was on the Iowa State roster as a recruited offensive lineman out of Sam Dimas, Calif. and Citrus Junior College.
Former UW defensive coordinator Dan McCarney was the head coach and the Cyclones, led by quarterback Sage Rosenfels, went 9-3, including a 24-14 win over the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
Woods didn’t play that season and transferred to Azusa Pacific the following spring to be closer to his mom, who had been diagnosed with cancer; a disease that she would eventually defeat.
“I remember being in Kinnick Stadium and it’s a loud deal,” said Woods. “I think that presents the same challenges that we’ve had in the past with Ohio State and Arizona State.
“I hope to see us handle that environment the best we have all year. I think we’re in a good spot right now. We need to continue to develop and improve every single day and that starts at practice.
“We’re healthy and that’s a positive thing, knock on wood. To be this far into the season and have everybody where they sit right now (on the depth chart) is a good thing.”
Anticipating some rock ’em, sock ’em football, Woods said, “It’s fun for an offensive line to get into these fights and I hope we’re ready for the challenge.
“As a group, as a front seven, they’re as good as we’ve seen as far as physicality in the run game. They play the game the right way, I’ll leave it at that.”
• • • •
In a 17-13 win over Iowa in the 2007 Big Ten opener, the Badgers brought true freshman safety Aaron Henry off the edge of the defense and he had 2.5 sacks of quarterback Jake Christensen.
In a 20-10 loss to Iowa in the 2009 homecoming game, the Badgers brought true freshman linebacker Chris Borland off the edge and he had 10 tackles, including 3 TFLs, and a forced fumble.
The following week, Borland made his first career start. He’s hoping to make his 40th Saturday. It could be iffy since Borland has practiced just once since injuring his hamstring on Oct. 19 at Illinois.
If you listen to Borland, there’s no doubt in his mind that he will be playing against the Hawkeyes. “I’ve had enough time (to recover),” Borland said. “I should be ready to go.”
In 2010, the last time these teams played, Borland had already been shut down for the season with a shoulder injury. J.J. Watt made up for his absence with 2 TFLs and a blocked kick in a 31-30 win.
Defensive tackle Ethan Hemer is Wisconsin’s only returning starter from that game. Although he didn’t start for the Hawkeyes, linebacker James Morris had four assisted tackles against the Badgers.
The following week, Morris made his first career start. He’s scheduled to make his 38th Saturday. Follow No. 44 for Wisconsin (Borland) or No. 44 for Iowa (Morris) and they will take you to the football.
Borland and Morris were in Chicago for this summer’s Big Ten Media Days. Both rhapsodized about the beauty of trophy games and long-standing college football rivalries like Wisconsin-Iowa.
“In a lot of ways, I think they’re a program that looks a lot like us, right?” Morris posed rhetorically. “From a fan’s perspective, we’re more alike than we are different.
“There’s some familiarity even though we haven’t played them in a couple of years. We share a border with them, at least one corner of the border, and it’s good for both of us to be playing again.”
Earlier this week, Borland said, “We understand their style. They’ve played the same way for a long time, so we know going in that it’s going to be a physical game, it’s going to be a trophy game.”
If he’s unable to play, Borland also said, “There’s no shortage of depth if need be.”
He accented the “trust” factor with whomever is on the field at inside linebacker, whether it’s O’Neill, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter or Ethan Armstrong, who can play inside or outside.
“That’s kind the luxury of being a jack-of-all-trades linebacker,” Armstrong said. “You get the opportunity to do different things. I’ll play wherever the coaches feel like they need me the most.
“It’s something I’ve always tried to hang my hat on (playing where needed). It has gotten me on the field early in my career and it has kind of been a stable since I’ve been here.
“Hopefully it’s a strength I bring to the team.”
The 22-year-old Armstrong tends to make it look easier than it is.
“There’s a big difference, quite a change, especially in this defense, going from outside to inside,” said Armstrong, a fifth-year senior. “There’s a change in responsibilities.
“But at the end of the day, it’s find the ball and get the ball.”
It’s Wisconsin and Iowa, and you wouldn’t expect anything less.