MADISON — This week, Wisconsin takes on Illinois in what is one of the few games in Wisconsin’s schedule that is not labeled a “big matchup.”
With their hands on the steering wheel of the Big Ten West, Wisconsin controls its own destiny and the offense will be looking to keep improving before bigger matchups reappear on their radar.
Coming off of their win against Northwestern, the Badgers will look to continue to improve their run game. Throughout the season, when the Wisconsin offense has done well, it has been because of a solid appetite of runs. Whether in the form of jet sweeps or not, the run game playing well means the team does well.
Last week, Bradrick Shaw got a solid amount of touches out of the backfield. The redshirt freshman, who had a touchdown in the big game against Nebraska, was very effective again, as he averaged almost five yards a carry on 54 yards and 11 touches.
And it seems like Shaw will continue to grow as a player.
“He kind of just likes to pick the brain of me and Corey and the other older guys to just get a gauge of the game and things like that,” senior captain Dare Ogunbowale said. “I love having in the running back room and I’m excited to see him grow as a player.”
And he should have a chance to grow as Illinois gives up close to 200 yards per game this season. So Clement and company have the opportunity to grow the run game as it slowly becomes the focal point of the offense.
Senior linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who is the leading tackler on the Illinois defense, will be trying to stop that run game. But the studs of this defense are on the defensive line.
Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips and Chunky Clements all project to be playing at the next level at some point and have been leaders on this defense all season.
“They’ve got a lot of talented players…I’m sure he [Smith] is having a huge impact,” head coach Paul Chryst said.
Clearly Smith is having a big impact. Phillips is having a huge year a monster stat line of 15 tackles for loss and seven stats. Smoot and Clements add another combined 18 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks combined.
With these three upfront, the pocket will be collapsing around whichever quarterback, whether starter Alex Hornibrook or package quarterback Bart Houston, is in the game. To compensate, receivers are going to have to get open and get open fast.
“We practice so many different looks and practice so many different things. When you get that perfect look it’s amazing, no matter who’s in there,” receiver George Rushing said. “Just like the Ohio State game, we predicted that their safety is going to slowly come over, Jazz was wide open for a touchdown. Things like that, we practice things like that. We went over those things over and over and over.”
As Wisconsin is getting set to play games against teams they are expected to beat handily though, the Badger players are focusing on themselves more so than they are on specific teams.
“The big thing is just trying to focus on, not necessarily them, but focus on us. It’s about us as a team and going out there executing, making our plays happen and just staying locked in,” Rushing said.
One thing Wisconsin is not doing though is looking ahead into their schedule or into potential post season play.
“I mean, these next few games are big games, they are going to come at us with championship effort. You can just look back at our schedule at like Georgia State,” Rushing said. “You know, I wouldn’t say we slept on them, but they came and played hard. So we can’t things like that happen again.”