[Update: Corey Clement will be out for Saturday's game, and Micah Kapoi will start at right guard for the injured Walker Williams]
After a 58-0 win over the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks last week, the No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1) prepare to face the Troy Trojans (1-1) from the Sun Belt Conference at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. Troy themselves are coming off a 44-16 win over Charleston Southern a week ago after racking up 374 yards of total offense against the Buccaneers.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's squad will have to face an uptempo, pace-driven spread offense under first-year head coach Neal Brown -- the second youngest coach in the FBS. The Badgers' offense will have a chance to run wild on a Trojans defense that gave up 251 yards on the ground to N.C. State in week one and 263 to the triple-option minded Charleston Southern last week.
Here are this week's keys to the game:
1. Continue to re-establish the running game. There's no reason to believe the Badgers can't run against the Trojans -who on average have given up 257 yards in the first two games of the season -- even without the real possibility of not having junior running back Corey Clement for the second consecutive game and the combination on the right side of the offensive line still up in the air between redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi, redshirt junior Walker Williams and redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel. Wisconsin has to continue to show improvement from Week 2 to Week 3, where they struggled in the first half against Miami (Ohio) but gained 98 yards in the third quarter to finish the game with 188 on the ground.
Redshirt junior running back Dare Ogunbowale gained 112 yards on the afternoon, including capping off his day with a 35-yard touchdown run behind the likes of Kapoi at right guard and Williams at right tackle. The former walk-on will continue to progress, and it's amazing to think a year ago -- he converted from cornerback.
In our podcast with Troy radio play-by-play voice Barry McKnight, he noted how N.C. State ran physically over the Trojans and wore them down throughout the game to the tune of 251 yards on the ground (and they should, with the defense needing to stay on the field for over 40 minutes a game). If Wisconsin wants to continue to get back to its stereotypical form leading up to the Big Ten Conference opener against Iowa on Oct. 3, they need to punish the front seven of Troy early and continue to wear them down -- which is a good possibility.
"We need to get a quicker start next time because we know what we need to do," Williams said after the game last Saturday. "We can't have a warm-up period in regards to our run game."
2. Create disruptive plays against Troy's spread. Senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert said after the game last Saturday the best way to disrupt the rhythm a pace-based spread offense is sacks -- which the Badgers had three of them against the RedHawks. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said during his weekly press conference that the Badgers will face a new challenge with another spread offense Saturday, but one that employs more four-wide receiver sets than one that utilizes a tight end.
There will be a challenge to not give up big plays on the ground and through the air -- and in a short amount of time. The Trojans have three runs of 30-plus yards through two games, and wide receiver Bryan Holmes has two receptions for over 30 yards already this season -- and in the last three season, has 16 total. That ties him for third best in the FBS during that span for catches over 30 yards. Troy has averaged 32.5 points per game so far, but their average time of possession is only 19:14.
Schobert and redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel have combined for four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss through two games. Biegel said on Wednesday that similar personnel will be used this week as in last week, so expect their 2-4-5 "peso" package in use with redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy in the defense backfield. The Bednarik Award watch list honoree also promised something special from him and Schobert this weekend -- we'll see what they and the Badgers' front seven have in store for the Trojans.
UWBadgers.com's Mike Lucas also reported Saturday to expect sophomores Natrell Jamerson and D'Cota Dixon to receive extra reps in those subpackages, which could show the Badgers may go with four cornerbacks and one safety in a nickel look, or with six defensive backs having four cornerbacks and two safeties.
Forced turnovers will be key in halting any momentum of Troy's. The Badgers got on track with four of them last week against Miami (Ohio) -- including three interceptions by the secondary. They'll face a quarterback in sophomore Brandon Silvers who hasn't thrown an interception in 29 quarters and as a freshman last season, completed 70.5 percent of his passes.
3. Passing game's continued resurgence. If the running game stalls again early as it did against Miami (Ohio) and Alabama, redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave and the rejuvenated passing game will be needed to carry the offense again. The Badgers have averaged 245.5 yards per game through the air in two contests, with Joel Stave completing 65.2 percent of his passes and five touchdown passes.
Eleven players have caught passes so far in 2015, with wide receivers on the receiving end of 27 of the 45 total receptions for the Badgers. Robert Wheelwright had a breakout game against the RedHawks with 6 catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, and provided the much-needed complement to redshirt senior Alex Erickson -- who leads the team with receptions with 11 grabs.
Troy's defense has tallied three sacks in each of their first two games against N.C. State and Charleston Southern, with their pass defense only allowing 155 yards per game.
Troy Trojans Q&A with Underdog Dynasty
How could Troy’s spread option attack cause problems for Wisconsin?
JY: The Troy coaching staff is excellent at situational play calling. The spread attack gives them a multitude of options, and they put that on full display last week against Charleston Southern. Granted, it is Charleston Southern, but there was a lot to like on offense especially in the passing game.
After the Badgers held the Miami (OH) Red Hawks to -3 rushing yards, do you expect Troy to continue using a platoon at running back or will Brandon Burks be the main workhorse?
JY: Burks should get the bulk of the load in the early portion of the game, but the coaching staff will evaluate the situation mid-to-late first quarter. If Burks is consistently being stopped for short gains or losses, they will not hesitate to go to a committee style approach. Like I said, their offensive scheme gives the play-callers a lot of options. Even if the Badgers are stuffing the run at the line play-after-play, a big run is always a possibility.
Which position matchup will be most difficult for the Trojans? Conversely, which matchup could hurt the Badgers?
JY: The biggest challenge for Troy will definitely be stopping the Wisconsin running attack. The Badgers consistently have one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, and I have no reason to expect anything different. The Trojans have a lot of nice defensive pieces, most of them experienced junior college transfers, but they just don't have the talent to slow down the Wisconsin run game even with Corey Clement out.
On the other side, Troy's Teddy Ruben is someone the Badgers will need to watch. In last week's game, the wide receiver caught six balls for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go along with a 64 yard punt return touchdown. He is an explosive player, and if overlooked, could have an outstanding day.
Which player (or players) need to break out for Troy to keep the game competitive?
JY: Ruben is definitely a guy who needs to have a great game if Troy is to have a chance. Trojan quarterback Brandon Silvers needs to make good reads and deliver the ball accurately and on time. He played well last week, but this will be a whole different challenge. If Brandon Burks is able to step up and hold off a platoon approach at the running back position, even better.
What is your prediction for the game?
JY: I see this one finishing somewhere around 42-17, but the Troy offense plays better than the final score indicates. The Trojans undoubtedly have the potential to put up more than 17 points, but if we are being realistic, that's a fair estimate.