Composure key for UW, Hornibrook in opener
Alex Hornibrook will look to open the season on a high note as UW faces off against Utah State Friday night.Image By: Bobby Burmeister
Wisconsin aims to manage its opening game energy this Friday night. While Utah State hopes to pull off a major upset. Below are three keys for each team to be successful in Week 1.
- Super Secondary Showing The Aggies were very hit or miss on defense last season. Specifically, their rushing defense was in the bottom half of the country, ranking 83 of 128. Their defensive backfield, however, was very strong, ranking sixth in the nation in pass defense. Even though Utah State will be without their two top corners from last year in safety Devin Centers and cornerback Daniel Gray, the Aggies still have a promising secondary. This season, Wisconsin is striving to integrate more new wide receivers into its offense, such as sophomores A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus, meaning the Aggies could find success stopping Wisconsin’s passing game, matching their experience with the Badger’s youth.
- Quiet the crowd. Taking the Badger Faithful emotionally out of a game is a notoriously difficult task to accomplish in Camp Randall. Still, it has been done, even by opponents widely regarded as inferior to the Badgers. Remember last year when Georgia State came to town during a 11:00 a.m. game, and nearly upset the Badgers? There was a noticeable lack of energy in the players, and the crowd was incredibly subdued. Obviously, the Friday night time slot and anticipation of the new season will give the crowd much more energy than they had against Georgia State, but if Utah State is to have any hope of scaring the Badgers, the Aggies will have to bring the crowd and fans to similarly low energy levels. This means making early defensive stops and slowing the game down. The Aggies will therefore look to keep the score low to end the first quarter and even the first half. Whether the Aggies have the tools to do this remains to be seen.
- Enjoy the Moment Realistically, this is a classic “paycheck game” to start the season. No disrespect to Utah State, a program that finished 16th five years ago led by really fun quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but there is barely a chance that their current team can upset the Badgers tonight. The Aggies scared the Badgers during that aforementioned season, going up 14-0 at the half before 16 unanswered by the Badgers shut down the upset. The Aggies, however, have been a different team in the last couple of seasons, including going only 3-9 last season. For Utah State, scoring in a stadium like Camp Randall could be a huge confidence boost for the rest of their season, where the Aggies are projected at around six wins. While this game is all but chalked up as a lost, the Aggies players get great experience against a top-10 team and enjoy the atmosphere under the lights. It’s also a great chance for some of their younger players to perform against Power-5 talent.
- Hone in Hornibrook Historically, the Badgers’ offense has been dominant on the ground. In fact, it’s practically a part of Wisconsin’s national brand: Big, home-grown linemen, walk-ons who end up as heroes and the ability to run the football. The Badgers’ backfield duo of Dare Ogunbowale and Corey Clement have moved on to try their hand in the NFL, so sophomore Bradrick Shaw and transfer Chris James will take the reins, full of potential. The consensus among experts, though, is that the running game will be fine, but it’s instead sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook who needs to improve and become more consistent for the Badgers to cement themselves as an elite team. This season, Hornibrook has experienced security blanket targets like senior tight end Troy Fumagalli and senior wide receiver Jazz Peavy, along with some new, young threats. Hornibrook will likely need to get in a rhythm before Wisconsin gets to the meat of their schedule to avoid major conference struggles. Expect the coaches to lean on some simpler routes and reads to build his framework, and hopefully experiment later in the game to make sure that the young quarterback continues his development.
- Let the linebackers Loose. Simply put, Jack Cichy’s injury was a huge blow for the defense both in the form of experience and leadership, as well as tangible production. Of course, the Wisconsin defense has dealt with the absence of Cichy before, and while obviously not ideal from UW’s perspective, the Badgers have depth in their linebacker core. Juniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly stepped up last year after Cichy’s previous injury and have proven themselves as valuable to the defense. New edition Andrew Van Ginkel, a junior transfer from Iowa Western Community College, brings more pass rush to a linebacking core that lost key contributors from last year like T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. New defensive coordinator Jim Leonard will likely be aggressive early in the season to make sure that his linebacker core is ready for the conference stretch.
- Just Chill. This is the first game of the season, and accordingly, one can expect UW’s players adrenaline levels to be high. If there are some minor glitches, some small imperfections or some kinks to start the game, it’s in Wisconsin’s best interest to stay composed. That’s the point of games like these: Work out the issues and start getting used to real, live football again. For the Badgers, it will be integral to keep their composure and not let the moment get too big. Expectations are high this season, and it’s possible with a slightly younger offense, some players may be looking ahead to the “bigger” games, and losing sight of what’s right in front of them. The Badgers cannot fall into the trap of taking the game too lightly, and therefore trying to do too much, especially in the form of younger players trying to make the flashy plays—which could ultimately lead to turnovers and cost the team. Head coach Paul Chryst and the rest of the staff need to ensure that everyone stays level-headed, and focuses on getting the job done one play at a time if UW wants to emerge with a victory.