MADISON - With one game left before the meat of the season ensues, the Wisconsin football team has another opportunity to fine-tune its craft entering conference play. This time, the Governors from Austin Peay will be in town to rendezvous with the Badgers.
Before heading to the stadium, BadgerBlitz.com offers a number of things to watch during today's game as well as a prediction.
1.) Life without Borland
Anyone following Badger football knows that losing Chris Borland to a season-ending shoulder injury is a hefty blow for the defense. His versatility and playmaking ability will be sorely missed.
However, as the cliché goes, with injury comes opportunity. And that's exactly what is staring players like Kevin Rouse, Blake Sorensen and A.J. Fenton right in the face.
Without Borland, the time is now for those players to step up and handle his void. They don't need to play at the ultimate level to have success, they just need to play solid and that can be had through sticking with the fundamentals.
We know Sorensen is a viable utility linebacker, whether those other two can find a rhythm entering conference play will be felt during a tune up game against the likes of Austin Peay.
2.) Not so special teams
One week after being exposed on kick return coverage, and even somewhat during punt returns, the Badgers will need to be focused and fundamental to generate some momentum entering the Big Ten opener at Michigan State.
Frankly, in Saturday's win over Arizona State, UW was horrid on special teams. They allowed way too many big plays, didn't fill their gaps and suffered the consequences of lackadaisical defense on kickoffs.
Against Austin Peay, a team that has it's most explosive player fielding kicks and punts, the Badgers will need to remain in tune with their assignments in order to have success in the that phase of the game.
Wisconsin has been fine in the areas of kicking and punting, but the coverage teams need to improve if this team has any ambition of being a title contender.
3.) Forcing some turnovers
Defensively, the Badgers have done enough to get by in the three opening wins this season. Now, against a much inferior opponent, it's time for the defensive side of the ball to assert its will and dominate the game. One way to reach that status would be to pressure the quarterback and force the Governors into some timely turnovers.
So far this season the Badgers aren't forcing near enough turnovers, and it's obvious that has to change entering Big Ten play. If the Badgers are going to contend for the conference crown, the defense is going to have to make plays.
Look for that to begin against APSU.
4.) This Budmayr's for you?
Head coach Bret Bielema has made it clear that he's willing to give Jon Budmayr some reps at the quarterback position. Through three games though, the chance hasn't arrived.
Maybe today is Budmayr's lucky day. Maybe the Badgers will be able to get up on the Governors early and find some time to rest some of the key players needed for this team to succeed. Maybe this is finally the day the young quarterback sees his first action in a collegiate game.
Soon we will all find out.
5.) Statement win?
Knowing a win over Austin Peay will be anything but a statement win simply because they are in a lower division, a decisive victory could still find meaning for this Badger team in the sense that the team has yet to compile a complete victory to this point.
So far, the team has been rather unimpressive in wins over UNLV, San Jose State and Arizona State (although that win will probably look better as the season progresses). Though the team is expected to win, and win big, over Austin Peay, doing so would put a statement on the non-conference portion of the schedule and likely feed into the momentum this team needs entering conference play.
Wisconsin is bigger, faster and stronger than Austin Peay and should have no problem racking up the yards against the inferior Governors. But that's all on paper. If UW comes out and plays sloppy, doesn't execute at its highest level or looks genuinely disinterested, it will likely be another long and unimpressive display.
I don't suspect that will be the case. I think the Badgers will pound the ball with their three running backs and dominate defensively. UW wins 47-10.
Lea's record: 3-0 straight up. 0-3 against the spread.