Wisconsin's offense has struggled to strike a consistent balance through three games. Despite playing Troy and Miami University, which rank 90th and 99th, respectively, in total defense, Wisconsin ranks 93rd in the country in total offense (373.3). Statistically speaking this will be Wisconsin’s stiffest defensive test since opening the season against Alabama, as Hawaii ranks 71st in total defense allowing 381 yards a game.
Here are Badger Nation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory over Hawaii (2-1), as the Rainbow Warriors travel to Madison for the first time since 1987.
1, Keep the defensive momentum
Wisconsin’s defense has rebounded since the loss to Alabama, only allowing three points in two games. That is to be expected when your last two opponents rank below the top 100 in total offense. Although Hawaii won’t be any different (ranking 123rd in total offense at 310.7 ypg), the Badgers’ defense will have to be ready for Hawaii’s Max Wittek, who ranks second in the Mountain West Conference in passing. Particularly, if senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert can consistently find his way into Hawaii’s backfield, it should help prevent Wittek from getting into a rhythm. Something Schobert has consistently done this season is harassing the opposition, as he ranks third nationally in tackles for loss (7.5) and is tied for fifth in sacks (four).
2, Chris Orr’s starting debut
The freshman outside linebacker did not disappoint when he came in for Leon Jacobs after the junior was ejected for targeting in the first quarter against Troy. Registering 14 tackles and coming up big in a number of short-yardage situations, Orr impressed defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to the point that Orr will likely replace Jacobs in the starting lineup. Showing a knack of being able to defend the pass well, Orr will be a critical element in UW slowing down a Hawaii’s passing game averaging 12.7 yards a pass. He will also have chances to help slow down Wittek, especially when he targets running back Paul Harris, who’s averaging 5.3 yards per catch.
3, Joel Stave’s rhythm
The offense will continue to rely on Stave to move the football down the field. Hawaii’s secondary is holding offenses to under 200 passing yards a game but is allowing quarterbacks to complete 61.3 percent of their passes. Stave has been efficient with his throws this season, ranking second in the Big Ten with a 67.4 completion rate. In particular, Stave has had success inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, going 19-for-27, 227 yards and six touchdowns. The touchdowns are particularly important, as Hawaii has only allowed two passing touchdowns this season.
4, Continue to establish the run
Wisconsin’s rushing numbers have steadily climbed since being embarrassed by Alabama, but is that due to UW’s unit starting to play together or because the overmatched competition has been worn down? With conference play on the horizon, the Badgers need to hope it’s the former instead of the latter. With junior Corey Clement out at least the next month, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal will get the bulk of the carries for the foreseeable future. The offensive line will have to be ready to play against a defensive line that is only allowing 3.8 yards a carry, making it important that they consistently get the push on the line in order to strike that offensive balance.
5, Convert third downs
This is one of the areas on Wisconsin’s offense that needs work, as the Badgers are converting on just 45 percent of their opportunities, sixth in the Big Ten. One of the main ways to grind down a tough defense is consistently convert on third-and-short or third-and-medium and occasionally hit a big play on third-and-long. Wisconsin has made 16 trips to the red zone this season, the most in the conference. Most importantly, the Badgers have converted on 15 of those tries, 11 of which have been for touchdowns, showing how important it is for UW to convert on “money down.”
Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 5-1, and the victories usually have come because the Rainbow Warriors haven’t been able to slow the Badgers’ rushing attack. UW’s running game isn’t nearly as formidable this time around and Hawaii’s offense could give the Badgers defense some problems if UW can’t pressure the passer.
Fortunately the Badgers have a pair of terrific rushers in Schobert and Vince Biegel. Look for UW’s defense, especially the two OLBs, to consistently find ways into the backfield to help lead Wisconsin to a 45-13 win.