Linebackers key for UW facing FAU backs
Linebacker Garret Dooley will play a big role in Wisconsin's run defense against Florida Atlantic as UW seeks its second win.Image By: Morgan Winston
Below are three keys for UW and FAU in preparation for Saturday morning's game:
- Rely on the run. The Owls have a very threatening duo returning to their backfield this season. Sophomore Devin Singletary is a very explosive runner that can break outside, and senior Gregory Howell Jr. has the strength to take hits and run through the defense. The two combine for a solid backfield that can explode for several yards with limited carries. Although the Owls had a poor passing offense last season, they often could rely on their running backs to get the job done. Howell was excellent last season, totaling 168 rushes for 833 yards and 13 touchdowns. He did, however, fumble the ball three times. Still, even with Howell’s impressive campaign, Singletary really stood out amongst the group. The freshman emerged as a highly capable back that protected the ball well, totalling 151 rushes for 1,016 yards, while adding 12 touchdowns and no fumbles. With the Badgers’ star linebacker Jack Cichy out for the season, look for the Owls to rely on Howell and Singletary to take advantage of a defense that is still adjusting to their roles on the field.
- Polish the Pass. As aforementioned, FAU’s aerial attack was, to put it lightly, poor last season. Then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel and redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Parr had a tough stint, and, as a result, the Owls offense faltered. This year, however, former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson will look to help right the ship. With Johnson’s dual threat ability and big arm, new head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will help get the most out of him as a quarterback. The two coaches have had success with dual-threat quarterbacks, and Johnson should therefore fit their system well. During their first game of the season, Johnson played backup to Parr, but after a disappointing loss to the Navy Midshipmen to start the season, Lane Kiffin might give Johnson a chance, which could provide a new challenge for the Badgers’ defense.
- More Kiffin Magic. New Owls head coach, the infamous Lane Kiffin, has made a name for himself—both good and bad—at all levels of the sport. Saying Kiffin had a strange relationship with Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban is an understatement, but his work as offensive coordinator gave life to a normally dull ‘Bama offense. Kiffin jumped at the chance to leave all the drama with Saban and hopes that he can gain back his golden-boy reputation by rebuilding a smaller school. Although Kiffin can make questionable decisions, and he brings what some may consider unnecessary drama, his talent as an offense and quarterback guru is rare. In his first game as FAU’s head coach, the offense sputtered early and often. There were, however, some moments of brilliance. The Owls’ first touchdown of the season, for example, was a 95-yard reception—the longest scoring play in the school’s history. Although it’s not always a given, if Kiffin can focus and put together a solid offensive game plan, then the Owls may knock the Badgers down before they know what hit them.
- Pressure the passer. Last year, FAU’s passing game was abysmal. This year, in an attempt to turn their struggles around, the Owls may be relying on unproven transfer De’Andre Johnson, as well as last year’s backup Daniel Parr, to add a new dimension and consistency to the offense. The Badgers defense is looking to get situated without Cichy, and they could use the easier out-of-conference games as a confidence booster. The focus will be Wisconsin’s linebacking core, who will look to attack FAU’s offensive line and quarterback early to disrupt their passing attack. If the linebackers look as good in coverage as they did during the Utah State game, the Badgers should immediately get rid of one part of the Owls’ game plan and force them to resort to their ground game. Although the Owls have decent running backs, the Badgers pride themselves on stopping the run, meaning stopping the passing game helps to give them the upper hand.
- Help out Hornibrook. As shown by the Badgers’ first home game, sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook was not entirely ready to command the offense. Although he weathered the storm and ultimately ended up having a pretty good game, Hornibrook needed time to settle in. It was only after being sacked twice, losing a fumble inside the Wisconsin 30 and throwing some errant passes that Hornibrook stood his ground and started making plays. Once he started playing well, the game was all but over. The Wisconsin coaches and Hornibrook himself know that he is arguably the key ingredient in making Wisconsin’s offense a formidable force this season. Accordingly, by allowing him to start slow with easy routes and short throws, the Badgers offense and Hornibrook should have the opportunity to thrive. As the season goes on, the Badgers can give their quarterback more freedom. For this upcoming game, however, keeping things simple is the way to go.
- Confident, not cocky. The Badgers started their season off with a blowout victory over the Utah State Aggies last Friday, and, as a result, they are likely more confident than they were before Week One. That isn’t an issue, however, so long as that confidence does not take away from their business-like mentality. At the same time, the Badgers can’t be nervous either. With the Wisconsin faithful behind them, nerves may result in the Badgers losing aggressiveness, and may therefore dampen energy and cause a lack of focus as well. Finding that balance will go a long way in both helping the Badgers win this game, and also taking control of their season.