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Matchup to watch for Badgers vs. Washington State

Who should we be looking for in tonight’s matchup for the Badgers?

The Wisconsin Badgers are set to face off against the Washington State Cougars on Saturday night, with kickoff slated for 6:30 PM CT.

After last week’s “sloppy” performance, according to head coach Luke Fickell, the Badgers have a tougher opponent in Week 2, led by dual-threat quarterback Cameron Ward.

Which matchup could dictate how the Badgers’ outcome in Week 2 turns out?

QB Cameron Ward vs. the Defense

Last weekend, quarterback Cameron Ward had a strong outing through the air, passing for 451 yards and three touchdowns, while completing over 75% of his passes.

That led to 50 points for the Washington State offense in a strong first week for the Cougars.

However, in a dominant offensive performance, there were two factors that went overlooked: the Cougars’ lack of a run offense, and Cameron Ward’s two fumbles.

Ward himself was the team’s leading rusher with just 40 yards, although he lost 17 yards from sacks.

Cougars’ lead backs Nakia Watson and Jaylen Jenkins combined for 26 rushing yards on 14 attempts, leaving the onus on Ward to carry both the passing attack and the rushing game.

Now, the Badgers are one of the better run-defending teams over the past few seasons, and that shouldn't change drastically in 2023 after a solid start against a good duo in Ron Cook Jr. and Mike Washington for Buffalo.

With their ability to stop the run, the Cougars offense may rest entirely on Ward’s shoulders, as it did in Week 1, and that's where the turnovers come in.

Ward had three fumbles in Week 1, losing two of them, and that was a talking point for head coach Luke Fickell this week, who pointed out that the turnover battle would likely dictate the game.

“[Turnovers] are something we talk about every week. I think it’s a great equalizer, especially going on the road,” Fickell said. “Maybe there are some ball security issues, but a couple of those ones from last week were bad snaps, and I think the ball’s on the ground and obviously it falls on the shoulders of the quarterback. But I think there’s a little bit of a connection there that I’m sure some of those things that they’ll be talking about that they’ve got to really clean up from week one.”

In what could be more of a closer game for the Badgers, their defense against Cameron Ward could ultimately be the overlying factor of whether they win or lose.

In order to be successful, they’ll need to play cleaner with their tackling and angles, while also winning the turnover battle.

The offense should hold its ground, but potentially still see some of the issues outlined in Week 1. So, it’s up to the defense to bridge the gap and contain Ward, a dual-threat quarterback who they saw last season in a 17-14 loss.

Can the Badgers change their fortunes this season?