Coming off a well-documented and historic win over LSU, the Wisconsin Badgers return home to face the Akron Zips this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The game, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. CT, will be the first of two straight non-conference home games before the start of Big Ten play for Wisconsin.
This matchup isn’t the first between the two programs; they met in 2003 and 2008, both Wisconsin wins in Madison. The Badgers bested the Zips in both of those matchups and are favored by 24 points heading into the 2016 installment.
The Zips are led by fifth-year head coach Tommy Bowden, who has taken the program from one win in his first season to its first bowl victory a season ago. This season, however, may prove to be a bit more challenging for the son of legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. Projected by many to finish third in the MAC East, this year’s Zips return six total starters, including four from a stingy 2015 defense. The offense only returns two, but they are at key positions (quarterback Thomas Woodson and wide receiver Jerome Lane) and each put up big numbers a week ago (more on that below). Akron defeated FCS school VMI 47-24, but it wasn’t easy—VMI was within two points of the Zips late in the third quarter before Akron pulled away.
The Badgers will try to follow their season-opening victory and avoid an upset at the hands of Akron. Along the way, they hope to prove the nation they are worthy of their No. 10 ranking in the AP Top. The jump from unranked to No. 10 was the best season debut for an unranked team in AP poll history, and puts them in the top 10 for the first time since October 2011.
When and where is the game?
2:30 p.m. CT will once again be the kickoff time for Wisconsin as it takes on Akron for the third time ever. Serving as Wisconsin’s home opener, the game will take place at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
How can I watch?
The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.
How can I stream the game online?
Via the BTN2Go app on iOS or Android, or www.btn2go.com.
How can I listen to it on the radio?
On the Badger Sports Network, where you’ll find the usual grouping of Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher and Patrick Herb. You can head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching WIBA.
Yes, the Akron Zips. Zips is short for Zipper, which was originally adopted as the school nickname in 1925 after a campus contest. Three years later, Zippy the Kangaroo became the official mascot of the school. Zippy is one of five female-gendered school mascots in Division-I athletics. Fun.
One Badger, one Zip that could decide the game
Wisconsin TE Troy Fumagalli
Fumagalli had the most impressive stat line of any Wisconsin offensive player against LSU—seven catches for 100 yards—so is this selection a case of recency bias? You might argue that. However, when we take a look at the Badgers’ tight end performance under Paul Chryst, a picture starts to form:
|2005||Co-OC/TE Coach||Owen Daniels||22||268||4|
|2006||OC/QB Coach||Travis Beckum||61||903||5|
|2007||OC/QB Coach||Travis Beckum||75||982||6|
|2008||OC/QB Coach||Garrett Graham||40||540||5|
|2009||OC/QB Coach||Garrett Graham||51||624||7|
|2010||OC/QB Coach||Lance Kendricks||43||663||5|
|2011||OC/QB Coach||Jacob Pedersen||30||356||8|
|2015||Head Coach||Troy Fumagalli||28||313||1|
|Bold denotes team leading statistic|
In nearly every year, a tight end has been an integral part of a Chryst offense. As a matter of fact, in over half of the seasons that Chryst has been the offensive coordinator or head coach, a tight end has been the team’s leading receiver. In those other years, a clear lead wide receiver (or two) had emerged so the need for a great tight end performance was lessened.
"Great, that’s over the course of a season. What does it have to do with Akron?" I’m SO glad you asked. First, it’s not a secret that the Wisconsin offense starts and thrives with the success of the running game. (If you didn’t know that one, this course is too advanced for you; please see your counselor about going back to Badgers 101.) That being said, the Akron 4-3 scheme is going to stack the box to try and make Bart Houston put the ball in the air, ideally to make some mistakes. Akron returns some experience in the secondary to have a chance at stopping the likes of Robert Wheelright and Jazz Peavy in that case. At the linebacker position? They replace all three starters from a year ago; not exactly the experience you want covering Fumagalli, especially when they have the Wisconsin offensive line and Corey Clement to worry about. Whether it’s as an alternate option to the running game, or as a function of it via play-action, Fumagalli has another shot at a big Week 2 and beyond.
Akron RB Warren Ball
I’m not sure where the classroom theme came from earlier, but let’s stick with it...
Pop Quiz!: What is Warren Ball?
A. A starting running back for Akron
B. A national champion
C. A former 4-star recruit
D. All of the above
Time’s up, pencils down, please hand in your papers quietly. The answer is... D., and that’s something Ball doesn’t have in common with many, if any, of his Akron teammates. The fifth-year senior and former Wisconsin recruiting target took advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule (Badger fans will remember this as the rule that Russell Wilson utilized) to leap from Ohio State to Akron this season without sitting out a year. Ball had minimal impact as a Buckeye as he gained 189 yards on 41 carries behind the likes of Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott, but rolls into Madison as the Zips’ starting running back. Coming off an 18-carry, 110-yard, one-touchdown performance against VMI in his Akron debut, Ball’s continued performance will be key if Akron will pull the upset on Saturday.
Now that we’ve covered Ball himself, let’s dig into the numbers. Akron’s 2015 running attack ranked 75th at about 165 yards per game. In wins, that total ballooned to 210 yards per game. In losses, it shrunk below 100 yards. There are pretty startling splits in yards per carry and overall attempts per game, as well:
The success of the running game in those wins carries over to the passing game. In those same wins, the Zips were able to attempt fewer passes and throw for even more yardage.
In short, Ball’s success has the ability to make Akron’s spread passing game even more proficient—over 400 yards and six touchdowns a week ago. Given Akron’s success against VMI, Wisconsin will undoubtedly have an eye on Zips quarterback Thomas Woodson and his team of receivers. If Ball can move the sticks on the ground, throws will open up for Woodson, who can also make things happen with this legs. It’s a game of dominoes the Badgers will not want to even get started.