As the beginning of the season rolls on and non-conference play continues, the Wisconsin Badgers will be suiting up against Florida Atlantic University and their new head coach Lane Kiffin.
First, let’s take a look at FAU’s defense. At 0-1 and after giving up 42 points to the Navy Midshipmen, they do not look to be the toughest of opponents for a Wisconsin team that tagged Utah State with 59 points last week.
That being said, they have some playmakers spread throughout their defense.
“They definitely have some good athletes up front and they can bring a lot of pressures and stuff, so it will be big for us to see that moving forward,” tight end Zander Neuville said.
Junior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair led FAU in tackles last week with 14, seven of which were solo. Sophomore linebacker Rashad Smith was right behind him with 10 total tackles and one for a loss.
One area of advantage Wisconsin used last week was the three-tight end set in which Troy Fumagalli, Neuville and Kyle Penniston all played together. All three of them will be looking to get bodies on the linebackers to make holes for the run game, but Neuville may have a distinct advantage in that department.
“Yeah it definitely helps. Especially with D-Line there’s a lot of tips you can get just with their foot work, which way the defense is bringing it, which way their slanting so I think D-Line helps blocking wise, just getting a better read of what’s coming pre-snap,” Neuville said of his position switch from a defensive lineman.
Also helping up front with the tight ends is the offensive line with seemingly completely healthy left guard Jon Dietzen. After subbing in for Micah Kapoi, Dietzen seemed to provide a steadying force up front that was lacking in the first quarter for the Badgers.
“Yeah it was nice today to see him bouncing around because Jon has gone through some different areas where he has had to miss some time. So it was good to see him play the number of snaps he did and thought he really had a bounce. He felt good after a game,” head coach Paul Chryst said.
There should be no trouble for Wisconsin in running the football though. Last week the Midshipmen ran all over FAU for a total of 416 yards and five touchdowns.
Looking to last week, Wisconsin will be looking to improve upon a performance where none of the three starters eclipsed even 90 yards rushing.
“I think in the run game we certainly had some good plays, but we felt that we left a lot of yards out there that we didn’t maximize the opportunities we had,” Chryst said.
Of the three running backs, though, freshman Jonathan Taylor really stood out, averaging 9.7 yards per carry for a total of 87 yards and a touchdown.
Taylor showed no signs of being a jittery freshman with no game experience.
“One thing about Jonathan that typically a freshman, first game and I know he was excited, but can sometimes speed up everything. Yet I thought he had a pretty good tempo to him. I was certainly impressed by that,” Chryst explained.
On the other side of the coin, the passing game, Wisconsin may find a little more resistance. Navy was only able to scrap out 11o yards through the air and FAU’s defensive backs provided added pressure all over the field.
Junior cornerback Andrew Soroh totaled 1.5 tackles for a loss and junior safety Jalen Young got in on the action with 1 tackle for a loss.
One way Wisconsin will look to find its rhythm in the passing game to drop fewer passes. Both Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor dropped passes that could have been huge plays early on in the game against Utah State. Avoiding mistakes like that will be key to getting into a steady flow.
As always though, Wisconsin is less focused on the game planning that FAU and Kiffin are coming up with and more worried about executing what they know to the best of their ability.
“Yeah I think knowing our game plan and knowing what is going on is huge for us but obviously, they can get into different things and get into different pressures on us but the more you’re prepared for the better off you’ll be,” starting right guard Beau Benzschawel said.