Heading into the 2012 season, the Badgers are faced with several changes from a disappointing and at the same time successful 2011 season: 6 new assistant coaches, new quarterback, and new leaders. However, due to the sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State, Wisconsin is the overwhelming favorite to win the Leaders Division and make it back to the B1G Championship Game with a chance to make a 3rd straight Rose Bowl appearance. In order to achieve this lofty yet very attainable goal, the Badgers will need to focus on the following:
Defensive Pass Rush
As mentioned in an earlier post, the Badgers failed in generating consistent pass rush at pivotal times during the 2011 season. DE David Gilbert was on his way to a big season (3 sacks and a forced fumble in 4 games) until a broken foot derailed him for the rest of the season. Now he’s back and healthy, and the Badgers should have a formidable pass rush off the edges with a more experienced Brendan Kelly on the other side. In addition, the interior line, led by Beau Allen, needs to generate a pass rush throughout the season and not let up big plays if the team wants to succeed this season.
Improved Special Teams
Every time the Badgers punted or kicked off in 2011, there was a collective gasp amongst the Badger faithful. Special teams gave up big plays throughout the season, especially at pivotal times. The Badgers surrendered a blocked field goal attempt and a blocked punt for a touchdown against Michigan State in a forgettable 2nd quarter in East Lansing. Not only do the Badgers need to correct those mistakes, but they also must replace P Brad Nortman and K Philip Welch who were solid for 4 straight years at their respective positions. Special teams can create huge momentum swings at any point in the game, and they must improve on that this year.
Consistent and Efficient QB Play
A player like Russell Wilson comes along once in a lifetime in Madison. A year later, welcome QB Danny O’Brien – another ACC transfer. Forget the comparisons to Wilson or even Scott Tolzien. O’Brien has to and will be himself. He’s a hard worker, has game experience, was the ACC Freshman of the Year, and can make some throws on the run. Though with a stable of RBs and TEs, O’Brien will just have to stay efficient and consistent enough to move the chains and tire the defense out. He will have to hit his check-downs if WRs are not open and has shown that ability thus far in camp. If he accomplishes this and lets Montee Ball et al. do their jobs, there’s no question the Badgers will be successful on offense again this season.
Win the Turnover Battles
Since 2009, the Badgers have had success in winning the turnover battles. From a +3 margin in 2009, the Badgers increased that to +14 in 2010 and +16 in 2011 . Wisconsin will have to continue that momentum into this season as the Badgers’ defense looks to be stronger than last season. If the Badgers want any chance in Lincoln or at home against MSU and OSU, it’s imperative that Badgers control the ball and create some turnovers. If they go 2-1 in those games, there’s no doubt Wisconsin will be in Indy for the second straight year.
Defend The Camp
The Badgers are 14-0 at home the last 2 seasons, and has since been labeled as one of the toughest environments in the country. It’s imperative the Badgers continue their home success this season, especially since MSU and OSU are coming to Madison this year. Win both of those (and make a statement against Urban Meyer) and with a win in Lincoln, the Badgers could be looking at…dare I say it…an undefeated season!
Win on the Road
For whatever reason, the Badgers have been a different team on the road lately. In 2010, their only conference loss was on the road in East Lansing. In 2011, East Lansing got the best of them again (I can’t remember the last time the Badgers won in East Lansing), followed by a loss just as brutal in Columbus the next weekend. Undoubtedly, Wisconsin’s toughest road game this year is against Nebraska in Lincoln. But, since OSU and PSU are ineligible for postseason play, the game at Purdue is definitely not one to sleep on. Purdue should be a better team this season and could pose a threat (albeit a small one) to the Badgers.
Stick to Wisconsin Football
Montee Ball. James White. Melvin Gordon. Vonte Jackson. Led by a Heisman candidate, Wisconsin cannot stay away from the running game. It’s always a little nerve-wracking when a team loses top assistant coaches (former OC Paul Chryst is now head coach at Pitt), but the new coaches have assured the fans that they will stick to Wisconsin football as there’s been a lot of success with that strategy. Of course, there will be a few new wrinkles in the offense as it comes with any new coordinator, but the staple of Wisconsin football will always be the power run game. Give the ball to the Heisman contender and let him be the workhorse that guides the team to Indy and hopefully Pasadena for a 3rd straight season.