"Once (Hawaii) starts worrying about the run, they won't know what to do with the pass," Wisconsin center Peter Konz said. "Once they start creeping up to start the run, it always starts messing with your mind when a team keeps pounding the football. We want to establish the run game right away."
Now the big question is will the Badgers get an A for execution? UW will get its chance on Saturday, as Wisconsin looks to win nine regular season games for the fifth time in six seasons with a victory over Hawaii (6-6) in the regular season finale.
The Badgers (8-3) have visited the Hawaiian Islands three times since 1996, beating the Warriors by an average score of 45-17. All three games have had the same theme – UW has run wild against the Warriors rush defense. It started with Ron Dayne's 339 yards in 1996 (a UH opponent record), Michael Bennett's 218 in 2000 and Brian Calhoun's 149 in 2005.
It looks promising on paper that the streak with continue. Hawaii enters its 13th game ranked 104th in the country in rush defense, having given up 195.6 yards per carry and 26 rushing touchdowns, numbers that probably make sophomore running back John Clay, named the Big Ten's offensive player of the year after rushing for 1,251 yards and 13 touchdowns, salivate.
As much as UW will enjoy going against Hawaii's 4-3 defense, the same could be said for the Warriors matching up against the Badgers' secondary. Hawaii's spread offense features four wide receivers and one running back … on every play. It's the main reason the Warriors are third nationally in passing offense, averaging 348.7 yards per game and have passed for over 300 yards in nine games.
Sophomore quarterback Bryant Moniz has thrown for 2,199 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games, with most of the throws going in the direction of junior Greg Salas (103 receptions, 1,559 yards and eight TDs), whose receiving yards per game (129.9) rank him second nationally. Salas needs six more receptions to set the school's single season record for catches.
"It's unique because he's their third stringer, but all their quarterbacks play at a high level," senior safety Chris Maragos said about Moniz, who compared him to Northwestern's quarterback Mike Kafka. "He can run, he can throw and we know they are going to chuck the ball around a lot. They oppose a great threat and we need to contest all our throws."
If that isn't a big enough challenge, the Badgers, secure in their post-season plans, will have to deal with the Warriors battling for a bowl birth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. After winning its first two games, Hawaii dropped six straight, but have rattled off five straight wins, including Saturday's seven-point home victory over Navy, to put them in position.
"In December, we have something to play for," UH Coach Greg McMackin said after the victory over Navy. "Nobody thought, except my team and my coaches, that we were going to have a chance at this and now we do. Now we've got to go to work and give it our best shot."
While Hawaii fights for its bowl, the Badgers are pushing for a better slot in the bowl pecking order. If two Big Ten teams get in the BCS, the Badgers seem to be a good bet to be picked over Northwestern to go to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. (10 a.m. on Jan. 1) against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.
If only Ohio State goes to the BCS, UW could play in either the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando or the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 in San Antonio.
The head-to-head meeting would be one factor to consider between the Badgers and the Wildcats, but UW's reputation for putting fans in the stands no matter the location seems to work in its favor.
UW knows it's going to go bowling, but a win over Hawaii, completing a perfect 4-0 non-conference schedule, would give UW a chance at 10 wins for just the sixth time in school history.
"It's really special, but we are taking it one game at a time," senior O'Brien Schofield said. "Hawaii basically determines our future and where we go in the bowls. The biggest thing is that we go over there and play a clean game of football. All the other stuff is going to come, that's why we are going there early. It's important that we finish our season strong."
Wisconsin (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. Hawaii (6-6, 3-5 WAC)
Date/Time - Saturday, December 5 at 10:30 p.m. CT
Stadium – Aloha Stadium (50,000/Field Turf)
Television - ESPN (Terry Gannon and David Norrie)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 4-1 (UW leads 3-1 in Honolulu)
Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 41-24, on Nov. 25, 2005 in Honolulu
Sophomore running back John Clay was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 121.0 rushing yards per game during conference play. He is the just the third Badger in school history to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, joining running backs Brent Moss (1993) and Ron Dayne (1999). Clay is just the sixth sophomore to win the award.
Linebacker Chris Borland earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, the sixth UW player to win the award (Tony Lowery - 1987, Ron Dayne - 1996, Brooks Bollinger - 1999, Anthony Davis - 2001, P.J. Hill - 2006). Borland is the first defensive player in UW history to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the first in the conference since Purdue defensive back Stuart Schweigert in 2000.
The only other time Wisconsin had a Big Ten Player of the Year (offense or defense) and a Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the same season was in 1999 when Dayne was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year and Bollinger earned Freshman of the Year honors.
A total of 12 Wisconsin players earned All-Big Ten honors (first-team, second-team or honorable mention). Nine of those 12 players have eligibility remaining.
Wisconsin forced 16 turnovers in Big Ten play, scoring 73 points off those turnovers (30.9 percent of its points in conference play). UW punted just twice following turnovers. The Badgers recovered fumbles at the end of the Minnesota and Purdue games that led to them running out the clock and they missed a field goal following an Iowa fumble.
Wisconsin is tied for 17th in the country for fewest penalties per game, averaging just 5.0 flags per game. During Big Ten play, UW was tied for second in fewest penalties per game.
A victory would earn UH a bowl bid for the fourth-straight year and seventh in the last eight years.
UH has eight wins over BCS conference teams since 2003, tied for fifth most nationally.
Hawaii holds a 6-11 record against current members of the Big Ten conference. UH is 1-0 vs. Illinois, 0-2 vs. Michigan, 1-4 vs. Michigan State, 1-0 vs. Minnesota, 1-1 vs. Northwestern, 1-0 vs. Purdue, and 1-4 vs. Wisconsin. UH is 5-9 in home games vs. the Big Ten. However, in its last six meetings vs. Big Ten opponents, UH is 3-3 with wins over Northwestern (2004), Michigan State (2004), and Purdue (2006).
Traditionally, the Warriors have played their best during the months of November and December. Since 1999, UH is 31-9 in regular season games during those months, including a 4-0 record this season. Last season, with a 4-5 mark entering the second week of November, UH reeled off three straight wins to secure a spot in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. In 2004, also with a 4-5 record and three regular season games remaining, UH won all three games to earn a Hawaii Bowl invitation.
Aloha Stadium opened Sept. 12, 1975, and in 33-plus years, UH boasts an all-time mark of 170-109-4 for a 60.8 winning percentage in the Halawa venue. The Warriors are 4-2 at home this season and have only posted two losing home records in the last nine years.
The Warriors have busted out a potent run game in recent weeks. As a team, UH has rushed for 100 yards in four of the last five games, including a 360-yard outburst against Utah State. That total was the most since 1995.
This is the worst possible scenario for Wisconsin – traveling 14 some hours to a humid climate, playing a spread offense team that passes until the pineapples bloom and the team they are facing needs a win to make a bowl game. Not just any bowl game, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, played in its own home stadium, against its former head coach June Jones. Think the Warriors need any more motivation on Senior Day?
Hawaii is 14-1 in November since 2006, has won three of its last four home games against Big Ten opponents and kept Michigan State from becoming bowl eligible in 2004. So, why is Wisconsin a 12-point favorite? The running game. The Badgers have traditionally brought their ground-control running game to the islands, keeping the Hawaii's offense on the sideline.
Though the game has been scheduled for Hawaii since the contract was first signed in 2004, Wisconsin dangled one million bucks if Hawaii would move the location of the December game to Madison. Athletic Director Jim Donovan said no, and now the Warriors have a real chance to win.
Key word there is chance. Wisconsin's running game needs to click, its secondary needs to respond from the bitter taste left in its mouth from Northwestern and the Badgers still have a shot at 10 wins, all the more reason for the Badgers to have motivation.
Actually, I am glad they didn't move this game. This game is set up like a bowl game, preparing UW for its January destination and its bowl game climate. Honestly, I am just happy to be here to Oahu, where UW should win a hard-fought 14-point decision.
Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 24
Straight up: 9-2
Against the Spread: 7-4