Starting the season on a high note with its upset win over then-No.5 LSU, Wisconsin has vaulted from unranked to the No.10 team in the Associated Press poll, the largest jump in school history between week one and week two. Despite the impressive victory by Wisconsin, head coach Paul Chryst knows that there are things his team can improve on as they prepare to play Akron for the first time since 2008.
Chryst will make sure his group is focused this week considering the Zips went 8-5 last season and beat Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Zips (1-0) are coming to Madison coming off a 47-24 victory over VMI behind quarterback Thomas Woodson, who was named MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns.
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 victory over Akron.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Vince Biegel OLB (2): Biegel finished the game against LSU with four tackles, one sack and was responsible for the rush at the end of the game against Brandon Harris that led to D’Cota Dixon’s game-sealing interception. Biegel will be facing an Akron offensive line that’s young and inexperienced (the projected starting offensive line has started a combined 10 games). Due to that factoid, Biegel should be able to supply the pressure more consistently than he did against LSU. If Biegel can consistently get in the backfield to disrupt a run or frustrate Woodson, the Zips’ offense won't look anything to close to what it did last weekend.
2, Corey Clement RB (1): Clement was able to find some success against LSU’s defense, rushing for 86 yards on a career-high 21 carries. The Zips had success against the run a year ago, ranking third in the country holding teams to 92.9 yards per game. Akron did it against a couple power five conference team, too, holding Pittsburgh to 128 yards and Oklahoma to 100 yards on the ground. However Akron has to replace both of its starting defensive tackles from last year, meaning Clement could find success testing the front seven up the middle. After surviving a physical test against LSU, Clement could be primed for a big weekend.
3, Bart Houston QB (4): Houston mostly had a successful starting debut but there are still things that he needs to clean up, specifically taking care of the football. Both of Houston’s interceptions came on critical ends of the field, a red-zone interception that cost UW at least three points and an interception at his own 21 that was returned for a touchdown. Houston will need to be careful of cornerback DeAndre Scott and safety Zach Guiser, who had six and two interceptions, respectively, last season. Considering VMI threw for 300 yards against Akron’s secondary last week, Houston should be able to generate successful offensive drives but it’s his responsibility that the Badgers come away with points inside the 30, something they missed on against the Tigers.
4, Troy Fumagalli TE (NR): It was clear that Fumagalli was one of Houston’s favorite targets after establishing new career highs in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (100). If Akron can slow down Wisconsin’s rushing attack, the connection between Houston and Fumagalli could help Wisconsin’s offense move the ball down the field. Fumagalli should be able to get open and could be targeted more in the red zone than he was against LSU. Fumagalli was able to provide an offensive weapon that the Tigers’ defense struggled to cover at times, and if Fumagalli can find the soft spots again in the defense, the Zips could struggle to stop Wisconsin’s aerial attack.
5, Sojourn Shelton CB (5): Shelton did his job well Saturday by limiting any big plays in the passing game and shut down his side of the field. The challenges will continue for Shelton against Akron’s Jerome Lane, who’s coming off of a 10-catch, 196-yard, two-touchdown performance. Lane led Akron with 782 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Shelton will need to be sound in his technique and make sure he doesn’t allow Lane to get a step on him. Akron has plenty of targets in the passing game, but if Shelton can take care of his side of the field, it should take away one of Woodson’s favorite targets.
6, Ryan Ramczyk LT (NR): The Zips have two talented defensive ends who have the shown the ability to generate pressure. In particular, Jamal Marcus finished last season with 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries. After playing uneven early, Ramczyk became more comfortable as the game wore on and played more consistent. In order for Wisconsin to be balanced, Ramczyk is needed to open up running lanes for Clement and protect the quarterback’s blind side. Getting his feet wet for the first time at the FBS level should serve him well going forward.
7, Jack Cichy ILB (NR): With the loss of Chris Orr (torn right ACL), the importance of Cichy becomes more important until T.J. Edwards can return. Cichy put together a good game against LSU with a team-high eight tackles (five solo) and found all sorts of ways of creating pressure. With Akron having a young offensive line, Cichy once again should be able to find alleys through the middle to be a disruptive presence. If Cichy can help provide the pressure with Biegel, it could be another big day for the backers.
Others to Note
Leo Musso S: Akron attempted 38 passes in the season opener and Wisconsin’s secondary can likely expect to see the same. Musso played well against LSU with five tackles that prevented some big gains on the ground and helped limit any big chunk plays through the air. The senior will need to be on alert again, as the defensive pressure from the front seven could open up takeaway opportunities on the back end.
Olive Sagapolu NT: Disrupting Woodson’s rhythm and making him get rid of the football faster than he normally would like to do is important. Doing that successfully starts with Sagapolu, who should be able to use his strength and technique to overpower his man to create plays for himself or for the linebackers to shoot the gap.
T.J. Watt OLB: Watt was able to serve as a good counterpart to Biegel in terms of getting into the backfield and create disruption, meaning Akron won’t have the luxury of avoiding one side of the field. Only scratching the surface, Watt could be in for another big day.
Rob Wheelwright WR: Wheelwright was a popular target for Houston on third down, but the senior only caught one of the five targets. As a team, Wisconsin went only 3-for-15 on third down. Wheelwright has the frame and size to have success against Akron, and he’ll need to take advantage and become a threat in the red zone for Wisconsin.