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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Game preview, week two against Washington State

Predictions, what to watch for during Badgers’ second game of year

The Wisconsin Badgers (1-0, Big Ten) will take on the visiting Washington State Cougars (1-0, Pac-12) in the second week of the season this Saturday as the Badgers look to start the year 2-0 for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

Coming into the game, ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Badgers with a 92% chance of winning. Here are three things to watch for on Saturday.

1. Nakia Watson returns to Camp Randall


After sitting behind Jonathan Taylor in 2018 and 2019 and Jalen Berger in 2020, former Badger running back Nakia Watson transferred to Washington State.

Now a redshirt junior, he ran for 118 yards over 18 carries last week — a solid performance for his first career start.

“I’m honestly excited,” Watson said in a recent interview with CBS Sports. “I still have a few teammates on the team so it will be nice to see them. Pregame and during the game we’re rivals but afterwards it’ll be nice to see them and some of the coaches that are still there. There will be some bragging rights for sure.”

Watson has no bad blood for Wisconsin. In fact, he said he enjoyed his time in Madison. But will he still enjoy Madison after Saturday’s game? Probably not.

Wisconsin’s run defense is one of the best in the nation, and Washington State’s offensive line particularly struggles with run blocking. Nevertheless, Watson knows the importance of this game.

“I’m going in there with a chip on my shoulder,” Watson said. “Knowing what I have to do personally, and knowing that I have something to prove not only to myself, but to the fans, to my family, to my friends. I definitely have to go into that game with the right mindset.”

2. Wisconsin’s cornerbacks

Already beginning the year with completely new starters, the Badgers’ secondary is very banged up.

Senior cornerbacks Alexander Smith and Justin Clark were both out week one and are listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said this would develop more over the week.

“I think we will be able to find out more this week, particularly with Justin, and where he is at,” Chryst said on Monday. “It’s been going well for him.”

Recognizing that their game day status is up in the air, the Badgers’ defensive depth will be put in question. After safety Hunter Wohler’s injury last week, a collection of new cornerbacks and safeties will play against Washington State.

Right now, Wisconsin’s depth chart has Jay Shaw and Alexander Smith listed as starting cornerbacks and Kamo’i Latu and Preston Zachman splitting duties for the injured Wohler at safety.

With that said, Wisconsin’s secondary allowed five passing plays for over 15 yards last week against Illinois State. While the game ended with a zero on the scoreboard, Illinois State had a few possessions in Badger territory.

But the Badgers now face a Power 5 opponent with a competent air-raid offense and talented playmakers across the field. Wisconsin can no longer rely on red zone turnovers and punting at the Badgers’ 35-yard line.

With Washington State’s talented receiving corps of Renard Bell and De’Zhaun Stribling, Wisconsin’s cornerbacks should expect a heavy dosage of 5-yard out-routes and slants. But Bell and Stribling also pose semi-dangerous deep threats. Especially with new free safeties for Wisconsin, the inexperience in playing with each other and overall lack of repetitions could lead to multiple big plays in the game. Senior safety John Torchio will most likely have an even more important role in containing Washington State’s deep threats.

3. Wisconsin’s pass rush

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward is a serious talent. Ward is renowned for his quick release and quick decision-making.

The junior transferred in from Incarnate Word, a Football Championship Subdivision school, where he threw for 4,648 yards with 47 touchdowns last year. Ward was considered one of the top FCS quarterbacks last season, earning him an All-American Award.

Last week, he tossed for three touchdowns and 215 passing yards. The dual-threat quarterback operates in a zone-read offense in which he chooses whether to hand it off, run himself or quickly sling it to his receivers. It is Ward’s first defensive test facing a Power 5 team. Unfortunately for him, Wisconsin’s defense is a massive step up compared to his former competition.

The Badgers’ defensive line will need to be explosive in Saturday’s matchup. Washington State has three new starters on the offensive line, and the experienced Badger front should be able to pressure the Cougars all game long.

Look for Wisconsin defenders Keeanu Benton and Maema Njongmeta to put up massive numbers Saturday.


Wisconsin has not lost a non-conference regular season game since 2018 and should have no problem continuing that streak. While Washington State certainly presents an offensive challenge, the Badgers are still considered heavy favorites, favored by 17.5 points in Vegas.

Like most Wisconsin games, their advantage lies in the trenches. The physicality and toughness of Wisconsin’s offensive and defensive line make the Badgers a formidable opponent for any team. But Washington State has a particular lack of talent in the offensive and defensive line.

Though Washington State leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks after seven sacks last week against Idaho, Idaho has one of the worst offensive lines in football. Compare Idaho to Wisconsin’s historic offensive line and it is a whole new ball game.

While Washington State can go somewhat toe-for-toe with the Badgers at quarterback, wide receiver and the secondary, the outcome is usually decided by who controls the line of scrimmage. In that battle, Wisconsin has a clear edge. And for that reason, I think Wisconsin wins.

Prediction — Wisconsin wins 31-17.

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