The Wisconsin Badgers kick off the 2022 collegiate season by facing the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium, who went 4-7 just a season ago.
With many intriguing storylines heading into the season opener, let’s examine the top matchup to watch for Saturday’s evening game.
Illinois State's passing attack vs. Wisconsin’s new-look corners
The Badgers have a revitalized secondary, led by redshirt senior Alexander Smith, but including UCLA transfer Jay Shaw, Toledo transfer Justin Clark, and Kentucky transfer Cedrick Dort Jr.
Shaw is expected to start opposite of Smith on the boundary, while Clark appears to be the current backup Nickelback on the team behind Dort, although both saw action with the first-team defense this offseason.
Illinois State struggled to move the ball through the air in 2021, throwing for just 124.8 yards per game. In the offseason, they brought in Minnesota transfer Zach Annexstad, whose lone starting season in 2018 resulted in 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 51.9% completion rate.
Additionally, the Redbirds are without their leading receiver from last season, as Austin Nagel, who caught 19 passes for 407 yards, graduated.
With unfamiliarity across the board for the Redbirds, it appears to be an easier integration for Wisconsin’s new pieces in the secondary, which also includes true freshman Hunter Woehler, who will start opposite John Torchio at safety.
However, will there be inconsistencies with the unit as they approach their first real-game action against a middling aerial attack, or will the Badgers’ secondary rise to the task and continue the strong defensive performances from last year? That’ll be the question to answer in this weekend’s matchup to watch.