Wooden oars are not printed on the Wisconsin Badgers’ uniforms. Wisconsin does not play the MAC schedule, or sport an undefeated record. But after a month of knowing their Cotton Bowl opponent, the players and coaching staff from Madison have studied the uprising Western Michigan program.
“We know we’re going up against a really good football team,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “We’ve got to play well to give ourselves a chance.”
Western Michigan last defeated Wisconsin in 1988, the only Bronco win in four games. In the loss, Chryst caught a pass, functioned as a long snapper, and participated on special teams for the Badgers. But instead of wearing number nine in red and white, Chryst will be along the sidelines coaching in opposition to P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan.
“[Western Michigan] has scored a ton of points and has the ability to be really explosive,” Chryst said. “They do a great job of being balanced and controlling the ball. When you watch Western, it’s a really good football team. Offensively, they can beat you in a number of different ways. Defensively, they have a really good pressure package and do a really nice job of changing up in their zones.”
One specific player that captivated Wisconsin on game film is college football’s all-time leading receiving yards leader. Western Michigan’s Corey Davis has excelled throughout his senior season with 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns, and the players know the caliber of talent they are facing in the six-foot-three-inch receiver.
“Corey Davis is a big threat receiver, but we just got to go in there with our technique and play our game,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said. “Great receivers make plays. I think he’ll be a big time receiver in the NFL too.”
Tindal is one of the corners that will be tested by Davis on Monday afternoon. The Wisconsin defense is best known for a stout running defense, but Tindal and the Badger secondary rank third in the FBS with 21 interceptions on the year.
“[Davis] is a good player,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “He runs really good routes and can catch the ball any way you throw it to him and is a fast dude. As a secondary, we’re overall a good team and on the defensive side of the ball, we’re just going to get to the quarterback and make plays.”
But along with Davis, Western Michigan’s offense is stacked with a myriad of weapons. The ever-efficient Zach Terrell leads the Broncos at quarterback and the running back duo of Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin will test the run-stopping linebackers in Chryst’s star-studded defense.
“We know that they’re going to have a lot of explosive plays and that we know that we’ll have to bounce back when they do run those plays,” said outside linebacker T.J. Watt. “They have very good weapons like any other team and we’ll have to take them seriously.”
Western Michigan’s undefeated record has gone slightly under the radar due to playing in the Mid-American Conference. But the Broncos took full advantage of their schedule, defeating two Big Ten West teams (and 2016 Wisconsin opponents) on the road. Considering Kalamazoo’s location in Big Ten territory and Western Michigan’s physical offensive line and strong running game, several similarities between Western Michigan and Wisconsin’s Big Ten rivals have been emphasized.
“They’re a great team,” tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “Everyone they’ve faced so far, they’ve stepped up to the challenge and beat. They take care of the football. They believe they can compete with anyone and I think they would fare pretty well [in the Big Ten].”
Wisconsin’s strong defense clashes with Davis and the high-powered Bronco offense at 1 p.m. EST in Arlington at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 2. The Broncos will be aiming for a perfect 3-0 record against the Big Ten West, while Wisconsin aims to improve the conference’s 2-5 bowl record.