Things may feel like déjàvu for the Badgers (6-6-3, 3-4-1 Big Ten), as for the second-straight week they will take to the road to battle the Big Ten's first-place team, followed by a matchup against a quality opponent. Tonight, the Badgers travel to Pennsylvania to battle No. 9 Penn State (10-3-3, 6-1-1), while Sunday has Wisconsin heading to Milwaukee to battle UW-Milwaukee (13-2-1, 6-0-0 Horizon League).
While some teams may prefer a break from such tough competition, Wisconsin head coach Dean Duerst said his team is excited and confident.
"We're just really excited because here's a chance to go in and play a top team in the country that's ranked," he said.
One reason that Duerst is looking forward to tonight's game is because he has looked at Penn State's schedule and has seen that many of their wins have been close games. In fact, five of Penn State's 10 wins have been by only one goal.
"We have to go there with the intent to get a win or a tie," he said. "I think our kids are actually very confident that that's what they can do."
Like Duerst, the players are excited for the weekend, but they feel as though they can't afford to lose ground this weekend.
"It's going to be a tough weekend," Wisconsin sophomore forward Taylor Walsh said. "We need to get some points out of this weekend, whether it's a tie or a win. We can't afford a loss right now.
"We have a good game plan going for this weekend that we think will definitely get some results," Walsh added.
To avoid slipping further in the conference standings, the Badgers will have to play better than they did last weekend when they were defeated 1-0 by then-No. 16 Indiana and by Purdue 4-0. To get back in the Big Ten race, they'll have to shore up their play on both offense and defense.
The two shutouts last weekend marked the first time this season that the Badgers went scoreless in consecutive matches. Walsh said that one of the keys for the team is to be more patient on offense.
"We're going to try and pick our attacks more," she said. "We're going to sit back and find the perfect opportunity; wait for the moments."
Neither the Nittany Lions nor the Panthers will make things easy for the Badgers, though. Penn State, unbeaten in its last five matches (4-0-1), has allowed only six goals in eight Big Ten games this season and 15 in 16 games overall. Both marks are good for third in the conference.
Sunday will be an even bigger test as UW-Milwaukee is one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Panthers currently rank eighth in the nation with a .424 goals-against-average and second in shutouts with 13.
With such strong defenses, Duerst hopes that his team can capitalize when given the chance.
"It'll be important that our midfield plays well. Midfield will be an important area this weekend as well as just making the most out of a couple of opportunities that you're going to be able to get," Duerst said. "Last weekend, we didn't make the most out of those opportunities."
From a defensive standpoint, the Badgers will have to bounce back from a game in which they gave up a season-high four goals. Freshman midfielder Whitney Owusu said that anticipation and teamwork will be key for the Badgers this weekend.
"We want to anticipate," Owusu said. "Last weekend, we just reacted and that's why we lost those games.
"We're going to have to play as a unit," she added. "The back four has to stay together and make sure we know where the other forwards are. We have to make sure we're talking, communicating."
The Nittany Lions are tied for the Big Ten lead with 16 goals in conference games and lead the conference in overall goals with 29. The Panthers have also scored 29 goals on the season.
With two formidable offenses in its future, Duerst feels that the team needs to have better game management.
"As a defensive unit, we have to keep our shape together, from the top forward to the back and even with the keeper in behind," he said. "It's really important that we don't get ourselves stretched out against these teams."
The current four-game stretch is likely the most difficult portion of the Badgers' schedule. That said, the team knows what it needs to do to keep their season going.
"When we were on the bus going back home we just kind of regrouped," Walsh said after losing both games last weekend. "We just figured out that we need to focus and keep going ahead and concentrate on what we need to do and what we can control."