Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois Complete Game Preview
After a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the LSU Tigers in Houston, Texas, the Wisconsin football team looks to rebound against the Western Illinois Leathernecks, who rolled to victory against Valparaiso in their opening contest.
Going into halftime against LSU, everything seemed to be going right for the Badgers after the injury to defensive end/nose guard Konrad Zagzebski. They were up 17-7 with the ball coming to them first after the break, and their defense held the Tigers to virtually no yards, save one 80-yard pass.
When the second half came, Melvin Gordon opened things up with a 63-yard run, capping off the drive with a touchdown plunge by Corey Clement. From that point, the Badgers scrounged up nary a positive play, looking out of sorts on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball while sieving away their lead en route to a 28-24 defeat.
Returning to the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium, a place that has seen the Badgers dominate nonconference opponents, the Badgers look to get back on track as their schedule becomes considerably more favorable for the coming weeks.
Wisconsin Keys to Victory
Forget the Forward Pass Exists
Against LSU, the Badgers racked up 318 total yards of offense, a somewhat respectable total. Of those, 268 came on the ground, good for 28th best in the country. Unfortunately for the Badgers offense, that only leaves 50 yards through the air, which came on a whopping 24 passes.
Tanner McEvoy did some really good things with his feet, managing to extend plays and drives with his legs and picked up 40 rushing yards on six attempts, all while not getting sacked. That was the good. The bad was that in the second half through the air, McEvoy went 3-of-10 for 17 yards and two interceptions.
Whether it's McEvoy or Stave who is named the starter, they will have to do better than 2.1 yards per attempt. Beyond that, the Badgers should just abandon their passing game, though on a September morning, they are probably better off working on their passing game than abandoning it.
The most effective the Badgers offense has been in a post-Russell Wilson world was when they threw the ball 10 times in the whole game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship in 2012, when Curt Phillips went 6-of-8 and the team carried the ball 50 times, en route to a 70-31 victory.
With Coach Andersen's preference for a mobile quarterback and D.J. Gillins not taking a redshirt yet, I wouldn't throw it out of the realm of possibility that we see him get snaps in this game once it's out of reach, which should happen sometime before the wave in the second quarter.
Losing Konrad Zagzebski was a big blow, and word still has yet to come out as to the extent of the injury, but with my untrained, non-medical eye, his injury looked really bad and at this point, one just has to hope for his general health and well-being.
Losing Zagzebski on its own is not the worst thing, though it did force Warren Herring to the inside. With that being said, the Badgers got quicker on the end, replacing the sturdier Zagzebski with Alec James, who, paired with Chikwe Obasih, form quite the formidable tandem.
It was Herring's injury, which also looked quite serious, though in a football-injury sort of way as opposed to life-altering, that really set the Badgers back as their already-thin defensive line was exposed by the LSU rushing attack as simple dive and power plays exposed the inexperienced and light front seven.
Furthermore, Melvin Gordon saw only three carries after opening the second half with a 63-yard scamper, which may be attributable to a hamstring tweak, though Coach Andersen defensively declined comment on the matter and claimed he wasn't hurt in one of the stranger postgame press conferences.
Whether or not Gordon was hurt against LSU, keeping him and all of the regulars healthy against a Leathernecks team that really shouldn't give them much trouble is of the utmost importance.
Western Illinois Keys to Victory
Keep It Close
I really can't envision a situation in which the Leathernecks win this game, so for their sake, the longer they can keep this close, the more of a chance they have to win. While that may seem like an obvious statement, they should take active steps to slow the game down and keep them in it as long as possible.
Against Valparaiso last week, the Leathernecks ran roughshod over their opponent, with quarterback Trenton Norvell throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions while running back J.C. Baker ran for 137 yards on only 17 carries and added a score to boot.
The Badgers secondary was leaky at times against LSU and while the Leathernecks offense hardly has the playmakers that the Tigers did, there does appear to be room over the top of the Badgers secondary as true freshman Lubern Figaro figures out the speed of the collegiate game.
The Badgers are paying $450,000 for the right to play a glorified scrimmage against the Leathernecks, according to Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin. For the Leathernecks, they get a chance to play in front of about 80,000 people for the first time in their careers and walk away with a good chunk of money.
But at the end of the day, this game doesn't count for them. While everyone will remember Appalachian State's thrilling victory over Michigan in 2007 and FCS teams do beat FBS teams on an annual basis, the Badgers aren't exactly playing North Dakota State, who went 15-0 en route to an FCS Championship last season.
For the Leathernecks, if they can walk away from this game with an offensive touchdown and their starting lineup intact, this will be a success. This is not to underplay the importance of the game for them, but rather the realities of being the last FCS opponent of the Badgers.
There is a reason why the Big Ten has stopped scheduling FCS teams in the future, as typically the second-string of your own team provides a greater test than many of the programs that Big Ten teams schedule in these early-season fixtures.
Wisconsin Players to Watch
Arthur Goldberg, Nose Guard
Arguably the single most important player on the Badgers' 3-4 defense is the nose guard. Last season, when Beau Allen was patrolling the middle, he could take up two blockers with ease while still providing a push into the backfield.
This season, the Badgers thought they had an easy replacement for Allen in Herring. Though Herring is a fraction of the size of Allen—though who isn't—Herring had great technique throughout camp and looked the part of a nose guard.
With a week left in camp, coach Andersen announced that Zagzebski would be the one to move inside to nose guard, freeing Herring up to play on the end where he is a little more dynamic and could make more plays in the backfield as opposed to just taking up space.
Fast forward to Week 2, and the Badgers have neither. While there is always a "next man up" mentality preached by coaching staffs from Pop Warner to the pros, rarely is depth tested so quickly.
Arthur Goldberg is the man to step in and while he was decent against LSU, his inexperience and the talent of the LSU offensive line made him look downright pitiful. In this tuneup game, Goldberg will need to show that he can handle the assignment of taking on two blockers to let Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter make plays behind him.
Corey Clement, Running Back
Last season, Corey Clement picked up 547 rushing yards on only 67 carries and added seven touchdowns to go with those impressive numbers. With that being said, with the record-setting duo of Melvin Gordon and James White in front of him, Clement didn't really play much outside of garbage time.
Clement had three 100-yard games last season—against UMass (final score 45-0), against Tennessee Tech (48-0) and against Indiana (51-3)—while recording a total of two carries in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Last week against LSU, Clement saw meaningful carries for the first time, toting the ball 15 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. While his numbers are pretty meager, Clement saw exclusively eight- and nine-man boxes thanks to the Badgers' hapless passing attack.
Clement will likely have a big game against the Leathernecks, as I can't imagine the Badgers' road-grading linemen will have much trouble with the Leathernecks front-seven (or eight), but it will be interesting to see if Clement can only rack up numbers against lesser defenses.
Western Illinois Players to Watch
Trenton Norvell, Quarterback
If the name Trenton Norvell means something to you, you are a really dedicated Western Illinois or Cincinnati fan. Norvell was a composite 3-star recruit and the 28th-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2012 when he signed with the Cincinnati Bearcats, according to 247Sports.
When the coaching staff turned over at Cincinnati, Norvell saw his window of opportunity close rapidly, and he chose to transfer as opposed to fight it out, ending up at Western Illinois, an unlikely landing spot for a Floridian.
Norvell was excellent against Valparaiso, going 20-of-28 and has the potential to do some damage if the Badgers can't figure out their secondary problems from last week, which included no help over the top in addition to poor tackling in the secondary, as seen on John Diarse's touchdown.
If Norvell can find time to throw, which could prove difficult as the Badgers were able to sack the LSU quarterbacks three times despite a solid Tigers offensive line, then he should provide a good test for the Badgers secondary.
David McDaniel, Cornerback
Last season, it was the Leathernecks' secondary that brought them success, holding opponents to fewer than 150 passing yards per game. McDaniel is a big part of that success, starting 21 games between his sophomore and junior seasons and making plays all over the field.
With how shaky the Badgers' passing offense was last season, for an FCS foe, the Leathernecks provide as good an opportunity to work out the kinks of their woeful aerial attack as any, as their secondary should provide something of a challenge to Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy or whomever else the Badgers put under center.
McDaniel recorded an interception last week, the seventh of his career, to go along with 150 career tackles. If the Leathernecks are going to shock the world, McDaniel will play a big part in that.
What They're Saying
Signals seemed to be a bit crossed when it came to whom to blame for the passing game. In the postgame press conference, when asked about McEvoy's protection, Coach Andersen said, "We can’t protect the passer. It does not matter who your quarterback is. The guy is running for his life.”
When asked about his protection, McEvoy said, "Really well. I thought I stayed in there. I could’ve stayed in there longer a couple plays, but I think it held up really well against that defense. Like I said, we’ve got a long season ahead of us."
Coach Andersen seemed to go out of his way to be defensive of McEvoy, going on to say, "No, we broke off the wrong route a couple times—nothing to do with Tanner," when asked about the apparent communication issues between McEvoy and his receivers.
After beating Valparaiso 45-6 in the team's season opener, head coach Bob Nielson had plenty of good things to say about his squad, saying, "Well a win is a win. I've learned that in 22 years. Anytime you can win and win comfortably you obviously do some good things and we did some good things tonight."
After a woeful second half last week, look for the Badgers to come out swinging this week, taking a 31-0 lead into halftime and giving the starters the afternoon off, letting freshmen running backs Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw (if healthy) do some damage as even the Badgers' second-string offensive line will eat up the Leathernecks' front-seven.
Look for both Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave to see snaps as the Badgers will probably test the Leathernecks strong-by-FCS-standards secondary to see if they can develop a rhythm in the passing game.
Behind 40 passing attempts from Norvell, the Leathernecks will get on the board in the second half for a touchdown and will move the ball between the 20s with relative ease in the second half before untimely sacks and turnovers will kill drive after drive.
Final Score: Wisconsin 48, Western Illinois 10