UW v. BGSU – Five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to UW's matchup with Bowling Green Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium

Green DBs: Yes, the Badgers have two senior cornerbacks. And yes, strong safety Johnny White started the first two games last year. But this is, on balance, a mightily inexperienced secondary, especially when matching up against a Bowling Green team that regularly spreads the field and is loaded with veteran skill players. UW's top four safeties — White, starting free safety Roderick Rogers, Zach Hampton and Joe Stellmacher — are all juniors, and will need to play to their age, rather than their experience levels. Redshirt freshmen corners Jack Ikegwuonu and Allen Langford could end up playing major roles in the outcome of this game. The Badgers have quite a bit of athleticism and talent in what should be a good secondary this season. But this could prove to be a tasking trial by fire.

Chess match: Omar Jacobs is a fantastic maestro for Gregg Brandon's up-tempo spread offense. But UW defensive coordinator Bret Bielema has had an entire offseason to prepare for this matchup. Expect him to have some tricks up his sleeve. Last season, the Badgers' schemes heaped confusion on Purdue's then-golden arm, Kyle Orton, and did much of the same to Northwestern's spread offense. Can they duplicate that feat against BGSU's highly touted attack? Or will the Falcons come better prepared and out-play UW, as in the Badgers' throttling at the hands of Michigan State last year.

Expect this matchup to be more of a push, especially compared to the above examples. Watch for the Badgers to run several defensive sets at BGSU to try and perplex Jacobs, with several defensive backs and linemen getting into the rotation. But Jacobs may be the best quarterback UW has faced in a few years and it would be surprising if he became frazzled.

Taking care of the ball: BGSU's much maligned defense actually only gave up more than 20 points five times last season, and only twice in its first nine games. But the Falcons were prone to giving up big chunks of yardage for most the season. They were, however, able to survive, in part, because of one of the nation's best turnover margins (+15). BGSU never lost a turnover battle last season. The Badgers were +2 in the turnover department last year. They must force more than they cough up Saturday and take advantage of any opportunities the Falcons give them.

Bend but do not break: UW took particular pride last season in not allowing touchdowns. Drives could be forgiven if the defense stoutly turned away threats on the end zone. Last year, opponents cracked the red zone only 26 times and only scored touchdowns on 12 such occasions. The Falcons, meanwhile, were quite efficient in the red zone, scoring on 83 percent (60 out of 72) of their opportunities and finishing red-zone chances with touchdowns 50 of 72 times. Keeping BGSU out of the end zone could put pressure on the Falcons' new place kicker, Joe Timchenko, a former junior college transfer who made his only field goal attempt last year.

Controlling the line of scrimmage: BGSU and UW are each breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, but boast two returning starters who will eventually play on Sundays. UW wants to control the tempo offensively and keep Jacobs off the field as much as possible. For that to happen, the Badgers' offensive line will have to dominate, whether run blocking or protecting quarterback John Stocco. On the other side of the ball, even if UW gets a good pass rush, Jacobs releases the ball too quickly to be sacked very often. But UW's defensive line does not necessarily need sacks to be disruptive. Clogging passing lanes and keeping Jacobs from comfortably moving around in the pocket would do the trick as well. Another key for the Badgers' front four is to control the line when BGSU looks to run the ball. Otherwise UW's linebackers and secondary will get hammered with a steady diet of P.J. Pope, B.J. Lane and Jacobs running, setting the table for BG's passing game.

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