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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 18, 2024

Five things to watch

1: Response of the defense

Following the news that sophomore linebacker Chris Borland will miss the remainder of the season, the Badger faithful are anxious to see how the defense will respond after losing one of its leaders. The 2009 Big Ten freshman of the Year tied for second in the conference with five forced fumbles while compiling 54 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 5 sacks. Without him, there is a considerable amount of added pressure on the team's remaining linebackers, sophomore Mike Taylor, senior Culmer St Jean and senior Blake Sorenson to step up their production, especially against the run. In last Saturday's 20-19 win over Arizona State, the Sun Devils exploited the Badgers' wounded defense when Borland departed, piling up 169 rushing yards. It will be interesting to see whether the defense plays with a chip on its shoulder and prove they can still be a formidable unit without Borland.

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2: Heavy dose of running

Austin Peay will have the daunting task of trying to stall Wisconsin's dominant run game, which is 20th in the nation, averaging 228 yards per game. After racking up 194 rushing yards in the victory over Arizona State, the Badgers and their massive offensive line are looking forward to facing an undersized defense that has allowed 657 total rushing yards and 219 yards per game.The Governor's 56-33 thrashing by Middle Tennessee on Sept. 11 was a prime example of Austin Peay's inability to stop the runas they gave up 353 yards and seven touchdowns. Look for Wisconsin to establish the ground game early and render the Governors' run defense obsolete. Also, the game could serve as a great opportunity for all three Badger running backs to receive playing time and head into Big Ten play with some valuable momentum.

3: Open targets

While the main objective of the Badgers' offense will be to run the football, an effective rushing attack usually opens up the field for the passing game. Since Austin Peay's defense will be so preoccupied with stopping Wisconsin's vaunted run offense, the Badgers will be able to exploit the Governor's pass defense through play-action and deep field passes.

With wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath still reeling from injuries, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien will be looking for his go-to target: senior tight end Lance Kendricks. Kendricks caught seven passes for a career-high 131 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State, continuing the recent trend of sure-handed, athletic tight ends that have been a staple of Wisconsin's offense.

Keep a look out for emerging freshman receiver Jared Abbrederis as well, who has been a consistent threat, hauling in eight receptions for 93 yards against the Sun Devils.

4: Homefield advantage

Having a strong home field can pay huge dividends, especially against opponents that are venturing into uncharted territory. Austin Peay will face its first BCS conference opponent in the school's history at one of the toughest venues in college footbal, Camp Randall Stadium, which is known for the fan's close proximity to the field and incredible noise they can generate. On top of that the Badgers have been exceptional at home, going 38-4 since the beginning of 2004 and winning 27 straight non-conference regular season games, the third-longest active streak in the nation behind only LSU and USC. In fact, Wisconsin's last loss to a non-conference adversary was just over seven years ago, when UNLV defeated Wisconsin 23-5 Sept. 13, 2003. The Governor's are a highly unlikely to end that streak with its inexperience at this level and playing in a stadium that boasts a capacity of over 80,000 Badger fans.

5: Execution of special team

If Badger's are serious about being a national contender, it is imperative they recover from last Saturday's horrendous display on special teams, when they gave up numerous long returns that could have easily cost them the game. Arizona State completely embarrassed the Badgers special teams, racking up 261 yards, more than either its rushing and passing total yards in the game.

To add insult to injury, Wisconsin's special teams allowed Arizona State's Omar Bolden to run back a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and nearly let another touchdown slip away before halftime.

A shoe-string tackle by sophomore safety Shelton Johnson at the 1-yard line prevented Kyle Middlebrooks from returning the kick-off 95 yards and giving Arizona State a 20-13 lead. Even with injuries, it was an unacceptable performance for this unit and if it stays that way, the Badgers' title hopes could be dashed.

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