Coming off a much-needed victory at Happy Valley, a place where no victory is considered easy despite Penn State’s recent struggles, the Badgers are feeling much better going into this weekend’s matchup with the Hilltoppers than they would have had the game gone ahead Sept. 15 as initially scheduled. The Badgers no longer have the bitter taste of two consecutive losses in their mouths, but look for them to come out as though they have something to prove. There is no question who is the superior team in Saturday’s game, and the Badgers will attempt to show how dominant they can be. As featured weekly, here are The Badger Herald’s Five Keys to Victory:
1. Stop Western Kentucky’s running attack
Ask Badger defenders about Western Kentucky’s offense and you may see their eyes light up and a smile crack their lips. Western Kentucky runs the triple-option offense. This is a pound-the-ball, run-every-play type of offense.
Last season, and to an extent this season, offenses have spread the Badgers’ D and picked them apart. Last week Western Kentucky only completed one pass while dominating Southwest Missouri State. Western Kentucky had seven runners carry the ball for 410 yards and three touchdowns last week. Their game is the run. The Badgers are chomping at the bit to face a smash-mouth running attack and have shown the ability to stuff the opponents’ running attacks this season. If the Badgers can stop the WKU running game early and force them to air it out, it will spell victory for UW.
2. Convert on third downs
This one may seem a no-brainer, but it has easily proved to be the most important statistic from Badger football games this year. Last week the Badgers were impressive on both offense and defense. The Badgers’ offense went 10 for 18 on third downs while the defense held Penn State to a dismal 1 for 9. However, two weeks previous, the Badgers performed poorly on third downs against Fresno State. The offense went only 5 of 15 on third downs and was 0 for 3 in fourth-down situations. The defense did no better, allowing the Bulldogs to capitalize on third down 52 percent of the time. The Badgers started on a positive note, going 4-for-6 on third down, but fell victims to dropped passes and were unable to adjust in order to pick up the Fresno State blitz. If the Badgers avoid a repeat of Fresno State and work as efficiently as they did against Penn State on third down this weekend, they will make it a very long day for Western Kentucky.
3. Find some balance by using Evans
Before the Penn State game, Lee Evans was quickly emerging as the star of a young Badger team. He was coming off three stellar performances in a row. However, last weekend Evans only caught one pass for zero yards. It is true that the Badgers didn’t need him to win last weekend, nor will they need him this weekend, but they will need him down the stretch if they hope to contend for a Big Ten title. Evans can provide balance for the Badgers’ running game, opening holes for Bollinger and Davis to run, if a few passes are thrown his way. Keeping Evans alive as a threat this season is important, and it would be in the team’s best interest not to forget about him.
4. Continued dominance from the D-line
Against Penn State, the Wisconsin defensive line play was simply outstanding. Wendell Bryant alone found his way to the quarterback 4.5 times. The Badgers were relentless from open to close. This is the type of play that the Badgers are asking for from their defensive front; they hope for more of the same dominance Saturday. Fans likely won’t see nearly as many sacks this week because of the nonexistent passing game of WKU.
However, they may see a different type of domination. If the defensive line penetrates quickly, the carnage will continue as the precisely timed pitches, handoffs and blocking schemes will be disrupted. Attempting to slow the Badgers’ D-line will be Buster Ashley. Ashley, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound resident of Owensboro, Ky., graded out at 98 percent following the Hilltoppers’ win over Southwest Missouri State, with his assignment making just two tackles in 61 plays. The freshman transfer from Louisville also had 12 pancake blocks, and did not commit a penalty in helping Western rush for a season-best 410 yards and pick up a season-high 423 yards of total offense. Constant double-teaming of Bryant is also expected to continue.
“In football, you get doubled every play. That’s just part of the game. I think he understands. So he’s just going to have to go through it the hard way, and that’s just football,” UW head coach Barry Alvarez said.
5. Come out fast and mistake-free
The Hilltoppers are ranked No. 5 in the nation; however, that is in Division-IAA. The Hilltoppers know they are facing an uphill climb to even play with the Badgers, much less beat them. They come into the game with no real expectations of winning at Camp Randall (regardless of what coaches might say). Saturday’s game should be a clear-cut case of better players beating inferior players. The only players that can beat the Badgers Saturday are the Badgers themselves. The Badgers must be careful that they do not breathe unnecessary life into the Hilltopppers through sloppy play, foolish turnovers or special-team miscues in the early going. If they make these mistakes, they could turn what should be a thrashing into a football game.