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What to know about Georgia State vs. Wisconsin

The winless Panthers make the trip Madison for the Badgers’ final tuneup before Big Ten play.

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NCAA Football: Georgia State at Air Force Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin (2-0; Depth Chart)

Last week: 54-10 win vs. Akron
Polls: No. 9 in AP Top 25 (Last week: No. 10); No. 12 in Amway Coaches Poll (Last week: No. 16)
Head coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (12-3)

Georgia State (0-2; Depth Chart on page 7)

Conference: Sun Belt Conference
Last week: 48-14 loss at Air Force
Polls: Not ranked
Head coach: Trent Miles, fourth season at Georgia State (7-20)

When Georgia State has the ball

Georgia State boasts many of the same features as Wisconsin’s Week 2 opponent, Akron: a lean toward the passing game, a couple of strong receivers and 2015 bowl eligibility, to name a few. However, averaging just 17.5 points, 52 rushing yards and 168.5 passing yards per game, the Panthers’ offense is off to a slow start in 2016. As head coach Trent Miles said on his radio show this week, “We have to find out who we are on offense.”

A huge problem on this side of the ball is Georgia State’s time of possession: an average of 19 minutes per game, dead-last in the nation. Junior quarterback Conner Manning, a graduate transfer from Utah, has thrown the ball 56 times at a 51.8 percent clip so far and has found a clear favorite target in wide receiver Robert Davis. Davis will likely end his career as the program’s top receiver and is near the top of the nation when it comes to active career receiving statistics. The 6’3” senior will challenge a Wisconsin secondary that’s faced its share of large wide receivers through two games.

Complementing Davis is sophomore receiver Penny Hart, who led the Sun Belt a season ago in receptions and yards per game (5.5 and 84.5, respectively.) As a unit, the Panthers’ offense returned six starters, mainly at skill positions, and was expected to be stronger thus far. The key for the Panthers’ offense will be to move the sticks and stay on the field; we’ve already mentioned their time-of-possession struggles. One way to do that would be the running game, which for the second straight year has been largely non-existent—backup quarterback Aaron Winchester leads the team with 58 rushing yards.

The Wisconsin defense has been lights-out through two games, but comes into Week 3 with a few injury concerns. Week 1 brought the loss of linebacker Chris Orr for the season and Week 2 brought the loss of defensive back Natrell Jamerson for 4-6 weeks. True freshman Caesar Williams, a candidate to have his redshirt pulled, is also out for Saturday’s game with a leg injury.

Look for junior Lubern Figaro and redshirt freshman Titus Booker to attempt to fill the void left by Jamerson in Wisconsin’s nickel package while the rest of the squad hopes to remain healthy before the beginning of Big Ten play next weekend. On the positive end of injury notes, linebacker T.J. Edwards saw his first playing time of the season a week ago and plans to get more against the Panthers.

When Wisconsin has the ball

This tweet sums this side of the ball up for Wisconsin:

To piggyback off of the Georgia State time-of-possession struggles, the Wisconsin offense has averaged 38 minutes of possession thus far.

Like the Wisconsin defense, the Badgers’ running game enters the game with an injury to a key player: running back Corey Clement left the Akron game with an ankle injury. Regardless of how much Clement plays, the other Wisconsin running backs should see plenty of carries and space to run.

While the Wisconsin ground game appears to have a very positive W22eek 3 outlook, the passing game will be looking to continue its progression. Bart Houston comes off a 231-yard,two-touchdown performance with several weapons emerging. In Week 1, Troy Fumagalli paired with Houston for 100 yards on seven catches. In Week 2, it was the wide receiving group’s turn as Jazz Peavy went for 100 yards and two touchdowns while Rob Wheelright added 99 yards of his own. Houston’s continued rapport with these receiving options will be critical as the team transitions from non-conference to Big Ten play.

Georgia State’s defense returned nine starters from 2015 and figured to be a strength of the 2016 squad. However, the offensive struggles mentioned above have put the Georgia State defense in difficult positions. Opponents have controlled the ball and run all over the Panthers through two games; Ball State racked up 325 yards on the ground while Air Force added 464. Opponents haven’t had to throw the ball much on Georgia State, but cornerback Jerome Smith picked off two passes in their opener. Defensive end Shawanye Lawrence leads the way up front as a fourth-year starter while safety Bryan Williams and linebacker Alonzo McGee lead the team in tackles. Overall, the Panthers’ 3-4 attack will certainly be focused on the Badgers’ running game, but if they continue to perform the way they have, they will be well on their way to 0-3.

Special teams

“When it rains, it pours” applies to the start of the 2016 Georgia State season, all the way down to its special teams units. Directly after taking a 7-0 lead over Air Force, the Panthers gave up a kick return for a touchdown. Later in the game, they were unable to recover an onside kick. To make matters worse, kicker Roger Ten Lohius missed his only field-goal attempt of the day. I feel like I’m repeating myself from a week ago, but these units need to shore up these mistakes if they have any chance at competing at Camp Randall.

On the positive side of things for the Panthers, running back Glenn Smith averages 31.9 yards per kickoff return, which includes an 88-yard return a week ago.

One of the few blemishes in Wisconsin’s defeat of Akron last week was Akron’s lone touchdown, a 55-yard punt return touchdown. We mentioned Smith’s playmaking ability as a kick returner, and he’s also listed as one of the punt returners. Punter Anthony Lotti and his unit will look to avoid the mistakes that led to that score a week ago.

Wisconsin’s return unit took a hit with the injury to Jamerson, one of the two primary returners for the Badgers’ kickoff units. Clement assumes the No. 1 kick returner position on Wisconsin’s depth chart, but one would think that the No. 2 returner, freshman receiver A.J. Taylor, will get plenty of work this week. Running back Dare Ogunbowale had two returns a week ago as well.