Iowa's King of the trenches waits for Badgers

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The spread offense has become a large part of the Big Ten fabric, but there are still games and players that reflect the league's cloud-of-dust roots.

Wisconsin-Iowa is one of those games and Hawkeyes senior defensive tackle Mitch King is one of those players. There will be no sign of the spread offense Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Instead, two teams with massive running backs and brawny linemen will pit power vs. power, much like they did 10, 20 and 30 years earlier.

King, the anchor of Iowa's defensive line, has no objections.

"I love playing this game," he said. "They love running the ball, we pride ourselves in stopping the run. It's smash mouth. It's determined between the lines, offensive and defensive line. That's where at Iowa we pride ourselves."

King's zest for facing Wisconsin shows up in the stat sheet.

He got his first whiff of the rivalry in 2005, when the Hawkeyes visited Camp Randall Stadium and ruined the send-off for longtime Badgers coach Barry Alvarez. Injuries had depleted Iowa's defensive line, and King, a converted linebacker, made his fifth career start in the game.

"We actually had nobody else behind him," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said, "so we were lucky that he developed as quickly as he did."

King racked up two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry as Iowa held Wisconsin to season lows in both points (10) and yards (276). He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts and earned Freshman All-America honors after the season.

"The atmosphere they bring in that stadium is electrifying," King said. "I love playing in that stadium. Ever since then, it really hit home for me."

Iowa has dropped its last two meetings against Wisconsin, but King has done his part. In 2006, he had eight tackles, two for loss, and a fumble recovery. Last year he racked up seven stops, two for loss, in a 17-13 decision.

King's connection to the Wisconsin series speaks to his longevity and durability.

He will make his 25th consecutive start Saturday and the 40th of his career. Last week King eclipsed 200 career tackles, and he boasts 48.5 stops for loss and 16.5 sacks.

A first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, King is arguably the league's premier interior defensive lineman, the latest in a string of Iowa stars that includes Aaron Kampman and Matt Roth.

"He reminds me a lot of players that have been there during Kirk's era," said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, a former Hawkeyes defensive lineman who coached Iowa's linebackers for Ferentz from 1999-2001. "The way he plays, the mentality that those defensive linemen have played with, it's just a mind set that goes with that defense."

Like both Kampman and Roth, King had to switch positions early in his career, moving from linebacker to defensive line, where there was a greater need.

"I didn't want to move at all, but there were some injuries, so they needed somebody," King said. "It was tough emotionally for a while and mentally. Physically, right off the bat, it wasn't too bad because I was quick, but over the long haul, being young and not having too much weight on me, I took a beating. So it hurt for a couple years."

King weighed just 247 pounds when he became a starter on Iowa's interior line midway through the 2005 season.

"Certainly Mitch was a little reluctant," Ferentz said," but he jumped in there and just went full speed, like he does now. He had no idea what he was doing."

King has added about 35 pounds since then and mastered the necessary techniques. Along with another D-line mainstay, tackle Matt Kroul, King leads a Hawkeyes defense that ranks fifth nationally in points allowed (10.9 points per game) and 18th in rushing (98.3 yards per game allowed).

Despite facing several premier backs -- Michigan State's Javon Ringer, Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy -- the Hawkeyes have allowed only three rushing touchdowns. Wisconsin enters game week with uncertainty at quarterback, and the Badgers will throw 473 pounds of running back -- in the form of P.J. Hill and John Clay -- at King and his line mates.

"It's never fun tackling a guy that can hit you as hard as you can hit them, but you've got to," King said. "They're going to bring those two big guys at us every play and run the power at us as much as they can, but we love going against the run. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do."

Ferentz likes his chances with King up front.

"We've had some excellent football players here," Ferentz said, "and Mitch is like a lot of the best guys that we've had in that he really loves the game, he loves the competition and he also has a very positive impact. His play and practice have a positive impact on his teammates.

"Certainly Mitch belongs in any discussion when you talk about the better guys in our conference."