Fresh off of their 16-14 win over No. 5 LSU last Saturday in Green Bay, the Wisconsin Badgers look to keep the momentum going against the Akron Zips on Saturday.
The MAC program is coming off a 47-24 victory over VMI on Saturday and could present some interesting matchups to the Badgers’ defense.
“Offensively, they’ll spread you out,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday. “Their quarterback has got a really strong arm but is also a good runner. I think their running back is a really good running back. They got some receivers that can run and got size. I think it’s going to stress us differently than last week where they’ll spread us out and we gotta play good assignment football. There’s times where you’ll be in one-on-one situations—we gotta make plays when we do."
Terry Bowden has taken over an Akron program that was 1-11 in two seasons under former Wisconsin assistant Rob Ianello and earned its first winning season since 2005 and a bowl win. What has he done to reshape the Zips' football program?
Alan Rucker (AR): The biggest thing is welcome in Power Five transfers with open arms. In fact, we’ve taken to calling Akron “Transfer U.” And we’re not talking crummy programs like Indiana. We’re talking crummy programs like Miami. So there’s that.
He’s also built one hell of a defense. It’s not MAC-good, it’s good-good. Of course, when you play in the MAC and you go up against a teams with offensive coordinators and sets that rival that cheating 16-year-old on Madden, your defense looks worse than it is. Unlike good MACtion defenses in the past, the front seven of Akron is actually pretty skilled. A lot of MAC teams hide their shortcomings because it isn’t a power running conference and the opposing offensive lines are pretty undersized to begin with. Not so with the Zips. Again, it looks skewed because the majority of the opponents they go up against aren’t equipped to handle their misgivings.
Quarterback Thomas Woodson leads a spread offense that appears potent, as the junior threw for over 400 yards and six touchdowns last week. Along with running back Warren Ball—who transferred from Ohio State—and wide receiver Jerome Lane, who should the Badgers look out for on Saturday?
AR: Remember that transfer thing I talked about a minute ago? Yeah, here’s what I mean. Warren Ball, an OSU transfer, added a 110-yard performance and one touchdown on 18 carries while Jerome Lane, who used to be a linebacker, mind you, went for 196 yards on 10 grabs with two touchdowns.
But they weren’t the story of the day thanks to Utah State transfer JoJo Natson Jr., who went for 90 yards on four catches, three of them touchdowns. I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in the offensive explosion from the previous weekend, as it was VMI who was exceptionally bad, but 400 yards and six touchdowns passing is never a bad thing, and more than a few MAC schools would have happily traded, even if it was against an FCS opponent.
Judging by Akron’s game notes, the Zips’ defense returns some starters in the secondary and the defensive line. Who could pose problems for Wisconsin?
AR: The Zips’ defense is driven by Jamal Marcus, who is an Ohio State transfer. I wasn’t kidding with my “Transfer U” nod. If single-teamed, Marcus is going to cause problems. The Akron secondary looks stronger than it likely is because of the pressure the front seven is able to generate. Stop that, and there are possibilities to exploit a secondary that has potential but questions.
Where could the Zips exploit the Badgers on both sides of the ball, and where do you feel UW will have the advantage?
AR: The thing about these MAC/Big Ten games is that there are opportunities and advantages at basically every position on both sides of the ball. I’m normally not a big fan of recruiting rankings because they are so arbitrary and self-aggrandizing, but there’s a reason why MAC athletes end up at MAC schools and Big Ten players end up at Wisconsin. The critical thing for MAC programs is to try to minimize that gap whenever possible, a tactic that Bowden has accomplished through transfers. So while I don’t think Akron has an advantage, I can see several places where the gap is minimal.
Having said that, those few instances are able to be overcome by gameplan and adjustments. Marcus is a good example. He’s a one-man wrecking ball to be sure, but there isn’t a reason why a double-team of Wisconsin linemen shouldn’t completely neutralize him. Then Akron has to count on a “big gap” player to step up. That’s a taller order
That, in a nutshell, is why these games usually end up the way they do. The margin for error is so much smaller and the big players easier to contain. It’s our fate.
Prediction for the game?
AR: Vegas has Wisconsin as a 24-point favorite and I’m picking the Badgers and laying the points in my weekly Bet-kakke post. That number seems about right to me, but admittedly, some of our staff has concerns about a let down after Ohio State. I would argue that if Akron didn’t have a stellar outing (albeit a slow start) last weekend, then that might be a possibility. I don’t think after a 400-yard, six-touchdown performance the Badgers are going to take the Zips lightly. This feels like a 42-17 kind of game to me with seven of the 17 being a garbage touchdown from Akron.