UW v. Hawaii, five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to the Badgers' game Friday in Honolulu

Bounce back game for UW offense: The Badgers were averaging 186.9 rushing yards, 398.8 total yards and 39.7 points per game before traveling to Happy Valley three weeks ago. Then, to close out the Big Ten regular season, Wisconsin averaged just 285 yards and 12 points per game in losses to Penn State and Iowa. Their vaunted rushing attack was reduced to squalor: 65 attempts for eight yards over two games. First-team All-Big Ten running back Brian Calhoun gained just 56 yards on 35 carries.

Hawaii's defense, however, is a far cry from the ones the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes placed on the field. The Warriors are ranked among the nation's worst both against the run and the pass.

Expect UW's offense to return to its more prolific ways, with a focus on getting Calhoun the ball early and often in the running game.

Protecting the passer: Wisconsin's paltry rushing totals the past two weeks were partially derived from a barrage of sacks. Quarterback John Stocco has been sacked 14 times the past two games.

Now, along comes Hawaii's 3-4 defense, a setup that UW is unaccustomed to facing. The Warriors' blitz packages will challenge an offensive line that has struggled with protection of late. Stocco also needs to be able to slide away from pressure and still make plays with his arm. Even the past two weeks he has been effective when he has had the opportunity to deliver the ball.

"You got to address your protection issues," co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "You got to address the routes we're running and throwing on time. Those are all the things that contribute to sacks."

The Badgers should have success running the football versus Hawaii's front, but they will need to put the ball in the air from time-to-time, of course. If the Warriors can harass Stocco, they can make UW's attack more one-dimensional. The Badgers can ill afford having that occur; they will need to put a lot of points on the board to win this game.

Colt Brennan: Omar Jacobs, Bret Basanez and Michael Robinson made short work of Wisconsin's defense this season. Tim Brasic, Curtis Painter and Drew Tate also had a great deal of success against UW in recent weeks. Now, along comes Brennan, another quarterback who can run and throw effectively.

Brennan has been exceptionally efficient, completing about 69 percent of his passes. He has the mobility to avoid the pass rush and find a receiver or simply make a play with his legs.

The Badgers have had two weeks to lick their wounds, study their mistakes and prepare for Hawaii. The defense played well in the first half against Iowa but otherwise had a rough go of the Big Ten season, since the Indiana game. UW needs to put together four solid quarters defensively or this will turn into a track meet.

Rushing the passer: Between Brennan and his fleet of quality of receiving options, UW will be in for a long evening if it cannot put pressure on Brennan, and preferably with minimal blitzing. The Badgers do not want to isolate their defensive backs in coverage versus Hawaii's four-receiver sets.

That means a defensive line that is now missing end Matt Shaughnessy must put the heat on Brennan. The Badgers will need big games out of defensive tackle Nick Hayden and end Kurt Ware.

Aloha Stadium: The Warriors have not exactly been hospital hosts during June Jones' time as head football coach. Hawaii sports a 40-18 home record in his tenure. The team is just 2-3 at home this season (and 2-3 on the road) but its home losses have come at the hands of USC, Boise State and Fresno State.

"They always play hard and they're very good at home," UW center Donovan Raiola said. "On the road, I don't know what it is, but when they are at home they got the crowd behind them. I don't know. They just play their best ball at home."

Two Big Ten teams — Northwestern and Michigan State — lost to the Warriors here last season. UW will have to match Hawaii's intensity to avoid a similar fate.

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