Saturday brings Wisconsin's first home night game in forever, so there's a certain amount of excitement for a game that might otherwise hold considerably less energy. That's not to say there aren't some interesting aspects Hawaii, but this is another non-conference game the Badgers should win comfortably.
Why? Because the Rainbow Warriors' offense has started off as merely terrible through the grace of putting up 47 points in a win last week over UC Davis, a team that finished 2-10 in the Big Sky Conference last year. Looking at their team offensive numbers, there are numerous rankings in the hundreds. Passing yards per game: No. 101. Rushing yards per carry: No. 105. Third-down conversions: tied for No. 114.
So Hawaii's offense, No. 116 in terms of yards per play and with eight of 48 first downs through defensive penalties, isn't exactly looking threatening. That said, Max Wittek is a physically gifted quarterback and Marcus Kemp is a proven, solid wide receiver. So is Devan Stubblefield's, and if his six catches, 108 yards and a touchdown last week are a building block, Hawaii may be building a passing game. That said, the Rainbow Warriors do have an offensive line that can be attacked, and Wisconsin linebacker Joe Schobert is currently in the top 10 nationally for sacks and top three in tackles for loss. The Chevy Bad Boys are going to make a big play or two on the blitz, and they'll definitely help keep the Badgers' offense on the field.
Against the run, Wittek's struggles have left the classic scenario of eight or nine defenders in the box. Running back Paul Harris does have a little bit of breakaway to him if the defense has to respect the pass, but without his 95-yard touchdown run last week, he's averaging just a shade over 4 yards per carry. Melvin Davis is a thumper, and will get the short-yardage play if it comes up. But as previously mentioned, this is an offensive line that can be attacked. If Wittek struggles, it might be another touchdown-less game for Hawaii, which was shut out 38-0 at Hawaii.
Defensively, while Wisconsin might have a good game, Hawaii coordinator Tom Mason will eventually play spoiler for a team or three in the Mountain West Conference. The Buckeyes ended up having to wear the Rainbow Warriors down in the fourth quarter to get them to their 38-0 win; put another way, they're currently No. 33 in yards per play allowed, despite their offensive struggles.
With the inexperience on the Badgers' offensive line and no Corey Clement coming, this is going to be an interesting test. Kennedy Tulimasealii is a playmaker on the defensive line and the Rainbow Warriors have seven players averaging five tackles per game. They'll attack the Badgers' running game, and it might not be a fun first half for Dare Ogunbowale or Taiwan Deal.
The interesting one-on-one matchup here is going to be defensive back Nick Nelson going up against Wisconsin receivers Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Nelson is already up to seven pass breakups and he's definitely going to limit whomever he's facing. But this defense is very similar to Dave Aranda's, and the Badgers have blitz beaters in Ogunbowale, Austin Taylor and Derek Watt. They'll make some moves and score some points. Typical Paul Chryst fun.
Long story short, don't panic if the Badgers go into halftime and the score is, like, 7-3. Hawaii's defense has grit and skill to it, but expect Wisconsin to pull away in the second half and win comfortably.