The home debut of Paul Chryst as Wisconsin’s head coach got off to a smashing start, as the Badgers blanked Miami University. Wisconsin once again could see similar results against Troy (1-1) but the Badgers’ defense will have to be careful of redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Silvers. Completing 70.5 percent of his passes last season, Silvers broke former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford’s record for completion percentage by a freshman (69.5 percent).
Although Troy went 3-9 last season with just one road win, the Trojans averaged 21.8 points a game under Silvers and returns seven starters. Even under a new head coach, Troy should feel more comfortable running its offense, even though they return only two starters on the offensive line.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a win over Troy, the first meeting between the two schools.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Joel Stave QB (1): Stave has been able to deliver consecutive 200-yard passing performances for the first time since his redshirt sophomore year. He will seek to put three consecutive 200-yard games for the first time since his redshirt freshman season Saturday. That might not be as easy with Troy having a solid secondary led by free safety Montres Kitchens, who led the Sun Belt last season with six interceptions. Stave has thrown an interception in each of the first two games and Kitchens is looking for his first of the season. Troy is breaking in two new starters at cornerback in Jalen Harris and Josh Marshall, and the two have combined for 10 tackles on the season. Stave has been impressive through two games with his ability to distribute the football around to his receivers. If the offensive line can keep the pocket clean against a Troy defense averaging three sacks per game, it should allow Stave a chance to connect with one of his wide receivers deep, as the offense is looking for its first completion over 20 yards. With junior tailback Corey Clement doubtful for Saturday, Wisconsin will continue to rely on Stave to help the offense move.
2, Joe Schobert OLB (2): It was a quieter game compared to Alabama for Schobert (registering six tackles, one tackle for loss and one sack), but he continues to find his way into the backfield. His five TFLs through two games is tied for third in the Big Ten. With Wisconsin facing an inexperienced offensive line for the second straight week, Schobert could see his numbers in the backfield improve if he can get a good grip on Silvers. Silvers is a threat to run, having rushed for five touchdowns last season. Schobert is a sure tackler and will need to deliver against a quarterback who has yet to thrown an interception this season.
3, Tyler Marz LT (4): Marz helped the ground game rush for 188 yards against the Redhawks but it was a slow start for the unit, entering halftime with only 58 yards on 21 carries. Wisconsin needs to find a way to balance the run with the passing game, which is averaging 232 yards under Stave. The good news for the run game is that Troy has allowed an average of 257 rushing yards per game. Although Troy returns three of four starters on its defensive line, they come from a group that allowed 246.1 yards on the ground last season. Marz and the rest of the line will need to create a bigger push up front in order to give Wisconsin’s runners a chance. Wisconsin was able to turn it around in the second half rushing the football (24 carries and 130 yards) but needs to have that same kind of consistency from start to finish. In passing situations, Marz will have to be careful of Tyler Roberts. Roberts (five sacks) led Troy in sacks last season and is currently tied with Rashad Dillard for the team lead with 1.5 sacks, not to mention Roberts leads Troy with 3.5 tackles for loss.
4, Michael Caputo S (NR): Caputo was able to return from his concussion with five tackles and again will be relied on to help limit big hits in the pass game. Although Silvers is connecting on 70.5 percent (44 attempts) of his passes this season, he hasn’t faced a secondary as talented as Wisconsin’s. UW’s big assignment will be limiting receiver Teddy Ruben, who is averaging 16.4 yards a reception. Wisconsin’s corners will have to keep an eye on Ruben to make sure he doesn’t get behind the secondary, and Caputo will need to have to clean up any mistakes. The unit will also need to be cognizant of Bryan Holmes, who led Troy in receiving against NC State with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown but went without a catch last week. With McEvoy playing opposite of Caputo at safety, it will allow defensive coordinator Dave Aranda the flexibility of sending Caputo on a blitz (nine career tackles for loss) to try and rattle Silvers. Caputo will continue to be asked to do a little bit of everything, including stopping a running game that’s averaging 123 yards.
5, Rob Wheelwright WR (NR): Wheelwright’s strong start to the season has him ranked second on the team in receiving yards (97) and third on the team in receptions (eight). He showed how dominant he could be against Miami with career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. It helps Wheelwright that Troy is breaking in two new starters at cornerback, which should help him get off to a quick start. Although Kitchens will be helping defend the middle of the field, Wheelwright still has Alex Erickson and Tanner McEvoy that the Trojans secondary will have to account for. Even if some of the same opportunities don’t present them like they did last week, Wheelwright still should see a number of passes come his way from Stave, especially in a red-zone situation where he’s emerged as a top option. It is important that Stave and Wheelwright continue to build that chemistry and timing in the passing game as Wisconsin gets closer to Big Ten play.
6, Tanner McEvoy WR/S (NR): What can McEvoy do for you? The answer a little bit of everything and that should continue as the season goes on. McEvoy became the fourth Badger in the last 12 years to play on both sides of the football and delivered with a 41-yard interception return by reading the quarterback’s eyes and jumping the route to set on a first-and-goal. McEvoy will be needed to make the same kind of smart plays on defense to slow down an offense averaging 339.5 yards through two games. Unofficially playing 73 snaps against the RedHawks, it didn’t seem to wear him down as McEvoy, who also registered three receptions for 29 yards. McEvoy is proving to be a valuable commodity on either side of the ball.
7, Dare Ogunbowale RB (NR): With Clement doubtful for this weekend, Ogunbowale will again receive plenty of carries against Troy and will be important in developing a consistency at the position. Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal can take some pressure off of Ogunbowale by pounding the ball inside, but Ogunbowale will need to show patience and wait for the offensive line to give him a chance to gain some positive yards. The one good thing Ogunbowale did against Miami is he was able to continuously run forward and never got tackled behind the line of scrimmage, a good thing considering Troy has accumulated a total of 65 yards in net loss rushing. Ogunbowale may not have been targeted as much in the passing game like he was in the opener, only registering three catches on Saturday, but certainly will be looked upon if pass protection breaks down and Stave needs a reliable player to throw to.
Others to Note
T.J. Edwards, ILB: With tailback Brandon Burks averaging 87 yards a game on the ground, Edwards will have a chance to make plays in the run game by stuffing the middle of the field. In order to hold Troy to the minus-3 yards the UW defense did against Miami, Edwards will have take advantage of every opportunity given to him within the flow of the game.
Alex Erickson, WR: Leading the team with 11 receptions, Erickson’s chemistry with Stave is unmatched compared to any other receiver. The early emergence of Wheelwright has taken pressure off of Erickson in the passing game, affording him more favorable matchups and more chances to register big plays.
Sojourn Shelton, CB: Despite having to leave the game for a period of time with a possible head injury, Shelton still managed to return and have a productive game with three tackles and a forced fumble. Shelton should be in position to succeed with the Trojans’ top two receivers not standing above 5-10 (Ruben’s, Troy’s leading receiver, stands at 5-7). If Shelton can be successful it will help Wisconsin’s defense make the Trojans offense one dimensional.
Conor Sheehy, NG: Like he did successfully against the RedHawks, Sheehy will have to continue to swallow up double teams, allowing the linebackers to do their jobs of creating havoc in Troy’s backfield. With Troy breaking in three new starters on the line, Sheehy should be able to post consecutive productive games for Wisconsin.