The No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers entered Saturday looking to build upon their 58-0 win against the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks last week. Facing the Troy Trojans at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers improved to 2-1 on the season behind a balanced offense and key defensive stops in a 28-3 victory.
The offense balanced itself out on Saturday. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal, working in tandem with junior Corey Clement out for the second consecutive game, started off the running game on a hot note in the first half, while redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave completed over 75 percent of his passes for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Below are three takeaways from Wisconsin's win.
1. Promising signs for running game and strong start help balance offense
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Walker Williams noted the Badgers wanted to get out to a better start rushing against the Trojans. Troy came into the game giving up an average of 257 yards on the ground in its first two games.
It was a recipe for success.
The Badgers ran for over 100 yards in the first half and ended the game with 199. That's only 11 yards more than what was gained against Miami, but the linemen appeared to get off the ball quicker and get to the second level, and got helmet-on-helmet with their power runs early on.
Ten of Wisconsin's first 12 plays were runs, and the backs complemented each other nicely. Deal barreled through the line and and punished defenders, while Ogunbowale provided some speed and elusiveness, especially on his 17-yard touchdown run on the second offensive series of the game.
There's still some work to do, but for the most part, the Badgers' offensive line asserted itself nicely.
The passing game once again appeared solid, with Stave finishing 13-of-17 for 202 yards and that 1-yard touchdown to redshirt senior tight end Austin Traylor. At least seven receiving targets caught passes for the Badgers.
2. Badgers' defense bends, but doesn't break
Head coach Paul Chryst and junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel both noted during the week the Badgers respected the Troy offense and its up-tempo, spread attack that normally utilizes a four-wide receiver set (10 personnel) out of the shotgun.
Give the Trojans credit: they kept up with the Badgers for one half at the absolute least, and ran 68 total plays in the game to Wisconsin's 53. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Silvers was accurate and quick delivering the ball, extending his interception-less streak to 33 quarters. With short passes (only about 5 yards per passing attempt for Troy on the afternoon), Silvers targeted junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton with some success underneath, and the defensive backs had to face obstacles in defending those short passes and the rhythm the Trojans developed on some long drives.
Even on third-down conversions, a bright spot for Dave Aranda's defense, Wisconsin was underwhelming in the first half. The Trojans converted four of eight in the first two quarters, but the Badgers rebounded in the second half to only allow the chains to be moved three times in third-down situations.
Kudos to true freshman Chris Orr for picking up where junior Leon Jacobs left off at inside linebacker. Orr tallied 14 tackles -- 11 solo -- on the afternoon and was swarming wherever the ball was on the field. Chryst and Aranda were high on the Texas native in fall camp, and there's a reason why he's elevated himself to the two-deep in such a short time.
The Badgers -- who played mostly in their "peso" 2-4-5 defensive package -- also held on with big plays of their own. Senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert's strip-sack of Silvers in the third quarter halted a huge second-half drive of Troy.
On the whole, Wisconsin only allowed 255 yards -- and most importantly, only three points. It wasn't easy, but the Badgers got it done.
3. Targeting penalties were questionable, could affect Wisconsin vs. Hawaii
Two targeting penalties (and their upholding upon reviews by officials) hampered Wisconsin, with Jacobs' ejection in the first half forcing Orr into action as the biggest change. His hit on Silvers wasn't to the head but straight to the numbers, but he did appear to lead with his crown more.
Unless rules have changed, #Badgers will have Jacobs for full game. Tindal will sit first half.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) September 19, 2015
The ejection to Tindal could loom large against Hawaii this week, as it appears he may have to sit for the first half (h/t Jeff Potrykus). Depending on what scheme the Badgers need to deploy, Natrell Jamerson could need to step up as the third cornerback in nickel packages.
Many in the media, along with the 80,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium, noted how both calls were questionable.
Leon Jacobs just got ejected for that hit. Don't get that at all.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) September 19, 2015
I'm sorry, but something about this rule has to be changed. That's the 2nd Wisconsin player ejected today for targeting. Both questionable.— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) September 19, 2015
After seeing that penalty on #Badgers Tindal I conclude they should stop playing tackle football.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) September 19, 2015