Wisconsin 5 Keys To Victory Over WKU

Wisconsin 5 Keys To Victory Over WKU

Football

Wisconsin 5 Keys To Victory Over WKU

For the second consecutive year, Wisconsin opens a much-anticipated season on a Friday night, this time hosting Western Kentucky.

Wisconsin has fared well in home openers, having won 22 straight dating back to 1996, but will task its young defense with stopping a Hilltopper program that possessed a potent passing offense in 2017.

Here are the five keys to a Wisconsin victory against Western Kentucky tonight.

1. Creating Pressure

The Badgers need to be prepared to see the Hilltoppers attack Wisconsin’s defense through the air early and often. A year ago, Western Kentucky’s leading rusher – Daniel Ferby – rushed for only 373 yards. 

With Wisconsin starting a pair of young corners in redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams and redshirt freshman Faion Hicks, the duo can expect redshirt senior quarterback Drew Eckels to try and create chunk plays.

Eckels will be making his first career start, making it important that Wisconsin can consistently generate a pass rush. That will begin with the play of UW’s defensive line – and its inexperienced defensive ends – to shore up blocks to allow the linebackers to frustrate Eckels.

The combination of Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun on the outside will both make their starting debuts. Pairing those two with inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly has the potential to create some major problems for Eckels. 

2. Wisconsin’s Success on the Ground

Wisconsin fans should see a heavy dose of sophomore Jonathan Taylor against a Hilltoppers run defense that struggled to create consistent pressure in the backfield last year. Taylor topped the 100-yard mark in 10 of 14 games as a freshman, including five games of 150-plus yards and three 200-yard performances.

When Taylor isn’t in the game, it will be up to the trio of Taiwan Deal, Chris James and Garrett Groshek to find success wearing down Western Kentucky’s defense.

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst will want to control the clock to keep his defense fresh and the likely rotation of four running backs throughout the game should allow the unit to stay fresh, consistently pick up positive yards and set up manageable third downs.

3. Start fast

Wisconsin opened up last season against Utah State falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, only to score the game’s final 59 points. Slow starts were a theme last season for the Badgers, as the offense scored seven points or less in the opening quarter the final eight games of the year.

Regardless of when Wisconsin’s offense gets the ball, the Badgers need to set the tempo early. Wisconsin’s defense needs to create a short drive and good field position for the offense, which need to make the important plays early to start creating the separation.

Wisconsin’s offense begins with Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook, the former avoiding a fumbling problem that grew larger as last season went on and the latter eliminating the interceptions that were an issue throughout Big Ten play. 

4. Can Wisconsin create turnovers?

Eckels has only appeared in 17 career games and has thrown one career interception. Wisconsin picked off 20 passes last season and has six players returning from last year’s team who recorded at least one interception. If Wisconsin can consistently generate a pass rush at the line of scrimmage, it might create an extra offensive opportunity against a defense that allowed 26.8 points a game last year. A big early lead will allow UW’s coaching staff to insert some backups into the game in order for them to gain some valuable game experience.      

5. The Play of Wisconsin’s Return Men

Wisconsin will be breaking in two new starting return men with Kendric Pryor on kickoff and Jack Dunn on punt return. With the new rule on kickoff allowing for the return man to fair catch the football outside their end zone and have the football placed at the 25-yard line, it will be interesting to see how Pryor handles his new responsibilities.

The primary backup to Nick Nelson last season, Dunn got his opportunities but never officially fielded a punt. It’s difficult to know what Dunn will bring to the position as he goes up against a Western Kentucky team that allowed six yards per punt return. 

Both players need to be cognizant of where they are on the field, as a mistake on special teams could lead to Wisconsin’s offense getting pinned deep into its own territory or worse.

Prediction

Western Kentucky has faced a Big Ten opponent in three of the last four seasons, losing all three games by an average of eight points. Those three losses, however, came to lowly Illinois (twice) and Indiana. Although Wisconsin has to replace seven starters on defense, this will be a good first test for its secondary considering the Hilltoppers averaged 44.3 pass attempts per game.

If Wisconsin’s linebackers can consistently get after Eckels and force rushed and contested throws, UW’s young corners will be able to make plays on the ball instead of being stuck in long pass coverages. Western Kentucky has a young offensive line and no real playmaker at running back, so stopping the pass and limiting extended drives will be the recipe for success. 

UW’s offense has the potential to score a lot of points this season in a variety of ways. This opener will be an early snapshot of that explosive ability and the art of controlling the clock. 

Wisconsin wins 38-14. 

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