After starting the season inside historic Lambeau Field, Wisconsin returns to its historic home stadium to host Akron for the third time in school history. With confidence running high after registering a marquee win against LSU, Wisconsin will need to be prepared to win its 36th straight nonconference home game, as the Zips (1-0) are capable of testing Wisconsin.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory on Saturday.
1, Executing in the Red Zone
Wisconsin was able to get into LSU’s red zone three times last Saturday but was only able to walk away with 10 points. Part of that problem was the quarterback; Bart Houston threw one of his two interceptions inside the 10 and slightly overthrew senior Rob Wheelwright on another. Going against a young defensive front, Houston should be able to guide Wisconsin on successful offensive drives, but he’ll need to be able to find ways to finish those drives with touchdowns. To squash any hopes of an upset, Wisconsin will need a fast start, sound execution and make smart decisions once they get close to the Zips’ end zone.
2, Creating Pressure in the Backfield
After going against an experienced interior offensive line last week, Wisconsin will face an Akron line whose most experienced player started five games last season (Kyle Ritz). UW supplied a ton of pressure off the edges from outside linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt and the interior from Jack Cichy, three players who are primed to disrupt the rhythm of quarterback Thomas Woodson. The Badgers need to be careful with over pursuit, however, as Woodson rushed for 591 yards last season, second-most on the team.
3, Converting on Third Down
Wisconsin went 3-for-15 on third down against LSU, a product of the offense putting itself in too many third-and-long situations. Of the 15 third down attempts, only three were from four yards or less. Even that didn’t prove to be a huge benefit, as the Badgers went 1-for-3 in those situations with an interception. There were also two times where Wisconsin had a third-and-4 or less and committed a penalty to force a long retry. Akron allowed teams to convert on 36.9 percent on third down last season, and considering most of its defensive front has been remade, a similar performance for Wisconsin would be concerning.
4, Repeat of Secondary Performance
Wisconsin’s secondary certainly passed its first test of the season against LSU with two interceptions and Arrington Farrar causing a fumble, but the Badgers will need to be on alert with the amount of options Woodson has to throw to. Four of the six players who caught a pass last week had at least four receptions, with Jerome Lane having a team-high 10 catches. If Wisconsin can supply the pressure on Woodson, who averaged 169.4 passing yards last season, it should limit the amount of time Wisconsin’s secondary has to cover and the ability to make plays on the ball.
5, Wisconsin Wide Receivers Step Up
The trio of Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy and George Rushing combined for eight catches and 89 yards in the win last week, but receivers coach Ted Gilmore said during the week that the group didn’t play with good technique consistently, evidenced by the drop passes and Rushing’s fumble. The group was targeted a combined nine times on third down but only once were able to pick up a fresh set of downs. UW needs more consistent, reliable receiving options other than tight end Troy Fumagalli.
With Wisconsin coming off of an emotional victory, the Badgers will need to be ready for an Akron team who is capable of scoring some points. However, due to the inexperienced offensive line (10 career starts among the projected starting five), Wisconsin’s defense should be able to disrupt Woodson from coming close to the 400+ yards and six touchdowns he had a week ago. If that’s the case, it will be up to the Wisconsin offense to find ways to consistently execute once it’s in a position to score. I expect that to happen. Wisconsin wins, 31-10.