CFB Preview: No. 10 Wisconsin-Akron
Wisconsin's victory lap from Lambeau Field to Madison was memorable if not for the miles traveled the distance covered between national expectations and those from inside the Badgers' program.
Saturday (3:30 ET) against Mid-American foe Akron, the 10th-ranked Badgers don't want to misplay the respect card.
Wisconsin entered the season with questions regarding its quarterback, the ability to handle such a rugged schedule and concerns of a potential drop-off for the program after years of sustained success.
The Badgers only had eight seniors on their two-deep roster for the opener against LSU.
All those concerns, at least for a few weeks, were put aside following a shocking 16-14 win over No. 5 LSU in the season opener in Green Bay.
"I feel like we were out to gain respect, and I think we did it at the end of the day," Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt said.
Akron beat VMI, 47-24, in its opener, with six touchdown passes from quarterback Tommy Woodson and 576 yards total offense. But a Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall will be a new challenge altogether, even if Akron coach Terry Bowden is 1-0 head-to-head against Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst (Akron beat Pitt in 2014). Wisconsin is 2-0 all-time against Akron and won 38-17 in 2008 with 404 rushing yards.
Bowden is 20-30 as Akron head coach, and he's not shy about the way the Zips want to win. They're throw, throw early, often and go deep when they do. In the first quarter Saturday, Akron had many miscues, but the Zips also had five pass plays of 20-plus yards.
"It's going to stress us out differently (than LSU)," Chryst said. "They're going to spread us out and we've got to play good assignment football."
The MAC has a 10-year streak of scoring at least one upset over the Big Ten, and Western Michigan wiped out Northwestern last week. The history lesson is not lost on the Badgers.
"Some people might have a harder time, staying in the past and celebrating that victory a little too much, but I think we're a real focused group," Watt said. "We've already started watching film, breaking down Akron, so it's just on to the next one."
The Badgers (1-0) defied the odds by defeating an SEC powerhouse that returned 17 starters and many experts viewed as a potential playoff contender. Wisconsin's defense forced three turnovers, running back Corey Clement had a big game and kicker Rafael Gaglianone made three field goals, including the winner with just under four minutes left. Clement rushed for 86 yards on a career-high 21 carries.
"I'm excited about what the future holds for this defense and this Wisconsin badgers football team," senior linebacker Vince Biegel said.
Akron had 13 penalties last week, including a defensive personal foul on a goal-to-go situation, missed two extra points and led 26-24 entering the fourth quarter. Bowden knows Saturday could be a reality check if the Zips don't pack discipline, and defense.
"Defensively ... you can see we're still a work in progress," Bowden said.
The immediate future for Wisconsin includes a drop-off in strength of opponents. After hosting Akron on Saturday and Georgia State the following week, the Badgers begin a stretch of games against ranked conference opponents -- at Michigan State and Michigan, home against Ohio State and at Iowa.
"These next two weeks are very important," Clement said. "I'm not saying these aren't big games, but you talk about Michigan and Michigan State and all these other great opponents that are in the Big Ten, you want to go into those games with as much momentum as possible."
Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Orr is out for the season because of a season-ending knee injury suffered against LSU. The Badgers did not disclose the status of linebacker T.J. Edwards, who didn't play at LSU because of a fractured foot.