The Cotton Bowl will mark Wisconsin’s sixth appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl game since 2011. Wisconsin certainly earned its right to play against Western Michigan (13-0) in a prestigious bowl after they navigated what was determined to be too difficult of a schedule. In a way it’s fitting for Wisconsin to face one final team ranked in the top 25, as the No. 12 Broncos will be the seventh ranked team it has faced this year.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory against Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
1, CONTAINING WESTERN MICHIGAN’S PASSING ATTACK
After allowing a season-high 384 yards passing in the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers’ secondary will need to show that the game against Penn State was an aberration. The secondary will certainly be challenged by Zach Terrell, who has thrown for 32 touchdowns, passing for an average of 259.6 yards a game and completing an impressive 70.7 percent of his passes. Terrell has three talented wide receivers at his disposal against a UW defense that allows 206.1 yards a game. The Broncos are led by Corey Davis who leads the team with 91 receptions for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Even if Wisconsin can slow Davis down, Terrell has two other capable options to take pressure off Davis in Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson, as the two have combined for 99 receptions, 1,365 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. Basically UW can’t afford a repeat performance of the second half against Penn State where breakdowns were the norm.
2, CREATING PRESSURE AGAINST ZACH TERRELL
Wisconsin’s front seven can assist the pass defense by creating pressure in the backfield to make sure the secondary doesn’t have to be in coverage for long. In order to create pressure it will be important that Wisconsin’s defensive line can create the necessary lanes for the linebackers. Having Alec James, Olive Sagapolu and Conor Sheehy back in the rotation looks to be a positive after being severely limited in the Big Ten title game. Terrell has only been sacked 14 times this year, but if Sagapolu or Garrett Rand can tie up the double teams, Wisconsin will have a chance to add to its 32 sacks on the season.
3, ESTABLISHING THE RUN
After a forgetful game against Michigan, Corey Clement has rushed for 100 yards in seven of the last eight games and is facing a Broncos rush defense that allows 151.2 yards a game. Since being held to 71 yards against Michigan, Wisconsin has averaged 231.3 rushing yards a game. Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw have been able to establish the aggressive ground game that the offense needs to have success and control the clock. In order to keep Western Michigan’s offense off the field, Clement will need to make sure Wisconsin isn’t consistently behind the chains. It’s been one of his strongest traits this season, as he has only lost 36 yards in 12 games.
4, CAN WISCONSIN CREATE A TURNOVER?
Wisconsin has shown to be a team that knows how to consistently create a takeaway, having intercepted 21 passes and recover six fumbles. Despite Wisconsin forcing at least one turnover in 11 of 13 games, the Broncos have protected the football well, as Terrell has thrown three interceptions and the Broncos have lost only four fumbles. Wisconsin has been on a turnover frenzy lately - creating at least one in six straight games – and most importantly has turned the miscues into points (93 points). With Wisconsin facing a balanced offense and a defense allowing 19.4 points a game, the Badgers can’t afford to squander scoring opportunities.
5, SLOW DOWN WESTERN MICHIGAN’S RUSHING ATTACK
Wisconsin consistently has faced talented rushing duos and Jarvion Franklin (1,300 yards) and Jamauri Bogan (865 yards) is the latest UW’s rush defense will face. The Badgers have consistently stifled opposing running backs, holding teams to 96.9 rushing yards per game (second best in the country). The two have shown to be able to reel off long runs, each with one going at least 54 yards, making it important that Wisconsin’s defensive line creates the better push to allow the linebackers to hold the Broncos to a minimal gain.
Wisconsin’s defense has been consistently good, if not dominant, throughout the season, which made it surprising to see how poorly they played in the second half against Penn State. With the front struggling to create pressure against Trace McSorley, the secondary fell apart in the second half. The Broncos are more than capable of having the same success through the air like Penn State did.
Having a month to prepare for Western Michigan’s passing attack will be beneficial for Wisconsin’s secondary in order to show the performance they displayed in Indianapolis was simply a blip. In particular, Wisconsin needs to receive production from either Lubern Figaro or Natrell Jamerson at the nickel position. The two were consistently beat against Penn State, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos attack them early and often to see if the Badgers have corrected up that weakness.
Wisconsin should be able to create pressure Terrell hasn’t felt this year, but his ability to escape the pocket will force Wisconsin’s linebackers to be sound in their assignments and not over pursue to allow a big bust. Constant pressure should limit his effectiveness and allow the secondary to not have to be in coverage for long, potentially allowing them to make a play on the football.
Western Michigan is good, but the Broncos haven’t faced a ground game and an offensive line that consistently grinds people down with its physicality and running game. Wisconsin’s running game should prove to be too much to handle over the course of the game. The Badgers will get what it needs out of the passing game and the secondary - with a month off - will allow Wisconsin to slow Western Michigan’s offense down.
Wisconsin wins its third straight bowl, 31-20.