Wisconsin is set to play its 10th straight game before receiving a much needed bye. But before Wisconsin can rest and continue to get healthy, the Badgers need to take care of business against a Maryland program desperate for a win after five straight losses.
Here are Badger Nation’s five keys to a victory for Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) over Maryland (2-6, 0-4), as Wisconsin prepares to play its first ever game in College Park.
1, Encore performance
Corey Clement was able to bring the much needed spark to Wisconsin’s offense by registering 115 yards and three touchdowns on the ground on only 11 carries, marking the first time a tailback rushed for 100 yards since the Nebraska game. Clement will likely see an increase in his carries against a Maryland defense giving up 167.4 yards a game on the ground. Clement should be able to find the holes the offensive line creates for him, which will take pressure off of Joel Stave and the passing attack
2, Containing the outside
Running back Brandon Ross leads Maryland in rushing on the season, but quarterback Perry Hills has outrushed Ross 398-to-162 since Big Ten play started. Although Ross is dangerous, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, Wisconsin’s defense will specifically need to be ready for Hills to make sure he can’t consistently escape the pocket. Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert both have done a great job of keeping containment and limiting the big plays and will be tested again.
3, Protecting Joel Stave
One of the few positives for Maryland this season has been its ability to get after the quarterback, as they rank second in the Big Ten with 3.5 sacks a game. Despite the consistent offensive line changes, Wisconsin has only given up 1.6 sacks a game. If the offensive line can make the proper adjustments throughout the game against Yannick Ngakoue (10.5 sacks) and Quinton Jefferson (5.5 sacks) and limit their push into the backfield, Stave should have plenty of time to make plays down the field.
4, Winning special teams
William Likely has made teams pay in the return game, as he has returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown this season. The last time Wisconsin allowed a punt return for a touchdown was by Ohio State’s Corey Brown in 2012 and last kickoff returned for a touchdown was by Minnesota’s Duane Bennett in 2011. Wisconsin’s special teams have been good this season but hasn’t faced someone as dangerous as Likely, who averages 19.7 yards per punt and 25.5 yards per kickoff return. The question is will the specialists be able to keep the ball out of his hands and give Maryland poor field position to work with? It was clear the Badgers’ offense benefitted from consistently having a short field to work with last week.
5, Creating turnovers
Maryland has turned the football over 28 times this season, which ranks last in the NCAA. Twenty-three of those turnovers have been interceptions, as Hills has thrown 10 on the season and one in every game he has played this season. Wisconsin has created eight turnovers in five Big Ten games and Hills has thrown three each week over the last two games. If Wisconsin’s pass rush can supply the pressure, the Badgers’ defense could have a field day.
If Wisconsin can prevent Likely from having success in the return game and force Hills into consistently working with a long field position, Wisconsin’s defense will be in prime position to succeed. Considering Wisconsin is coming off its best offensive performance of the season and going against a Maryland defense allowing 33.8 points a game, Wisconsin should win easily, 37-10.