On Saturday, Akron attempts to continue their winning ways in 2016 by doing their best impression of Western Michigan by knocking off a B1G opponent in the 1-0 Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have had as successful a 2016 as anyone, knocking off #5 LSU 16-14 last weekend in Green Bay. It’s a tall order for the Zips, but there’s no time like the present to announce your belonging on the national stage.
Joining us for a preview of what Zips and MAC fans can expect is Jake Kocorowski from the outstanding Wisconsin Badgers’ blog, Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
So, the difference in opponent couldn't be more staggering in Week 1 with VMI for the Zips and LSU for Wisconsin. What's the general feel around Badgerland? One game at a time or still reveling in the win over the SEC? Because one of those things is considerably better than the other for the Akron Zips.
JK: Covering the game last week at Lambeau Field, the crowd was absolutely electric (for both fan bases), but there was an emotion not seen by Wisconsin players and fans in what seems like years after that win. That said, head coach Paul Chryst mentioned how players were already coming in Sunday to prepare for Akron. Wide receiver Rob Wheelwright even mentioned to me after the game how the team would celebrate, but would pivot quickly to turn their attention to the Zips. With the leadership of the team, I don't necessarily think they'll feel a hangover come Saturday.
Akron's offense exploded in Week 1. Not literally, because that would be messy and probably mean this week is a forfeit. How is Wisconsin defensively, specifically against the passgasm that's about to be unleashed?
JK: Containing the more pro-style offense LSU utilizes last week (257 total yards, 138 rushing from Leonard Fournette), the Badgers will have to defend that spread look the Zips deploy. Wisconsin's front seven in its 3-4 scheme is heavily experienced, and their linebackers are among the best in the nation -- and that's even without Big Ten Linebacker of the Year Joe Schobert (who's now starting with the Cleveland Browns). Outside linebacker Vince Biegel is the leader of that defense and is paired with T.J. Watt opposite him (J.J.'s youngest brother). Inside linebacker Jack Cichy and Ryan Connelly -- both former walk-ons -- were among the leaders in tacklers last week.
The defensive line doesn't get the credit it deserves, allowing those linebackers to make those plays. Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Alec James hold their ground as defensive ends, and 340-pound Olive Sagapolu is able to eat up the blocks.
The secondary was the one question mark heading into the season, as it lost three of its four starters. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton (38 starts) and Derrick Tindal (25 games played) locked down the LSU receivers nicely with some physical play, and safeties Leo Musso and D'Cota Dixon played well on Saturday. Against the Zips, though, expect cornerbacks Natrell Jamerson and Caesar Williams (the latter a true freshman), along with safety Arrington Farrar, to be utilized to combat Akron's passing personnel. Akron will stress the Badgers' defensive backs different this week. We'll see how they respond on Saturday.
As an SEC fan, I know that at times, the crowd and the intimidation that goes with it may be a little late to arrive given the brand of the opponent. Not every week gets the intense fervor of the marquee matchups. With a MAC opponent rolling in for a 2:30 matchup, what kind of environment can the Zips expect to be walking into?
JK: I don't think there will be the emotion and energy seen in Lambeau Field, but there should be greater enthusiasm for a team that catapulted up to No. 10 in the AP poll. Game day in Madison is a unique experience where tens of thousands of people tailgate, drink, eat around the campus area. Covering games now for my third season, you get a chance to walk towards the stadium and see just the wide range of fans, the Tuba section of the UW Marching Band floating from tailgate gathering to gathering, and more.
The student section showed up on time at Lambeau Field last weekend -- we'll see when they arrive on Saturday.
The biggest threat to Wisconsin is the front 7 of the Zips, surprisingly enough. Should MAC fans expect the usual corn fed giants that seem to populate ever Wisconsin offensive line ever, or is there hope that the Akron defense can actually cause some chaos?
JK: Wisconsin's offensive line is still growing, but they're a more experienced group than last year where they had seven offensive line combinations in 13 games -- including four redshirt freshmen that solidified the line at the end of the year. Against LSU and former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, they gained 134 yards on the ground, but there are signs they could be returning to the precedent set in years' past. Michael Deiter is a Rimington Trophy watch list candidate at center, and could be the next great Badgers linemen. Jon Dietzen -- known as a bruiser to some of his linemen mates -- could get the start at left guard while redshirt sophomore Micah Kapoi is nursing a foot injury. Watch for left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who transferred from Division III UW-Stevens Point last season and was praised heavily by first-team defense in scout-team looks. He held his own last week against LSU.
Next year, it could be a truly impressive line. This year -- I think they'll assert themselves well while working to hone their skills further.
Give us a prediction on the game and how you think it goes! From the Wisconsin perspective, pick the music for the mood you'll be in after the game.
JK: The team takes on the identity of its coach, especially coming off an emotional win. Chryst is even-keeled, and the players' approach to this week appears to show they've already moved on to the next game. Wisconsin wins 38-10 as the defense adjusts to the spread quickly, and the offense finds balance in its running and passing game.
I'm covering the game for B5Q, so I'll be typing my heart away. For the fans if they continue their winning ways, "Beautiful Day" by U2 would be a decent choice (especially with temperatures around 70 degrees after a cloudy morning). With the band's "Fifth Quarter" routine, expect a lot of polka, dancing and singing "Varsity."