The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers capitalized on 326 rushing yards to power their way to victory over Hawaii on Saturday night in the first night game at Camp Randall Stadium since 2012. Wisconsin improved to 3-1 on the season and finally showed the smash mouth run game everyone has come to expect.
The Badgers scored a touchdown in each quarter, using long sustained drives to wear out the Warrior defense. The four scoring drives took 16, 9, 11 and 8 plays, respectively, and mostly involved a mix runs from redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal and redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale -- who combined for 232 yards on the ground.
Below are three key takeaways from the Badgers win:
Taiwan Deal appears to have surpassed Dare Ogunbowale for the top running back spot
Once the news broke that Corey Clement would undergo sports hernia surgery and miss four to six weeks, Wisconsin head Paul Chryst re-iterated the depth chart at running back read, Dare, Deal and recently linebacker-converted-tailback true freshman Alec Ingold.
Chryst says the tailback depth chart is now Dare Ogunbowale, Taiwan Deal and Alec Ingold.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) September 24, 2015
On Saturday, however, it looked like Deal was the lead back out rushing Ogunbowale 26 carries to 15. In the previous two games, Deal was primarily used in short yardage formations and Ogunbowale getting most of the other snaps. On Wisconsin's opening drive, Deal carried the ball nine times out of 16 plays and capped it off with a two-yard touchdown run.
Deal is a redshirt freshman and is still getting accustom to the speed of college football. While the offensive line was improved in creating space to run (more on this later), Deal looked patient and decisive in reading blocks, something he seemed to struggle with earlier in the season. He was much improved against Hawaii and should continue to grow as the season progresses.
For now Deal seems like he has moved to the top of the depth chart. But with the onslaught that is the Big Ten schedule starting next week, Wisconsin will need both Deal and Ogunbowale to continue contributing at a high level.
The defense is really, REALLY good
Since redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy began playing safety the second week of the season against Troy, Wisconsin's defense has not allowed a touchdown. Regardless of competition, going three games and allowing only three points is impressive.
Credit defensive coordinator Dave Aranda for his constant pressure and attacking schemes that harass opposing offenses nearly all game long. Even when it appears the Badgers have secured victory, Aranda still allows the second and third string guys to remain aggressive. He seems to really want those shut outs.
Against Hawaii, despite a few bend but don't break moments, the defense was in control most of the game. The Warriors managed just 15 rushing yards and needed 34 pass attempts to reach 240 yards passing.
Hawaii's biggest play of the game was a 51-yard double pass that resulted in a first down on Wisconsin's 13-yard line.. However, the Badgers defense held firm, forced Hawaii to lose yards and eventually miss a 49-yard field goal.
Maybe the best part about the defense has been the play across the board. No one or two players continually dominate. From outside linebackers Joe Schobert's and Vince Biegel's pass rush, safety Michael Caputo's play in the run game as well as the secondary, to the continued solid play from true freshman inside linebacekr Chris Orr, the Badgers team defense has been outstanding on the young season.
The offensive line still a work in progress
As noted before the offensive line is definitely improving. They were stout and active paving the way for 326 yards on the ground against a Hawaii defense that held defending nation champion Ohio State to only 182 rushing yards two weeks ago.
Hayden Biegel and Michael Kapoi earned the starting spots on the right side of the line at right tackle and right guard, respectively, and performed well. However, Walker Williams and Jacob Maxwell also worked in and held their own.
The Badgers have been trying to settle on a consistent starting five since the start of fall camp. Four weeks into the season -- and one week before the start of Big Ten play -- it seems the shuffling will continue a bit more. Whether the coaches feel confident in any combination of players, no one has stood out and took charge of right guard and right tackle spots.
Inexperience along the offensive line has been a concern almost the entire offseason. The constant shuffling and mixing has made it a challenge to build continuity. While the non-conference slate allowed for multiple players to get experience, not having a settled rotation could be cause for concern starting next week at Iowa.