The atmosphere in Arlington was electric at the start of this 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic. Several times the Western faithful spontaneously broke out into “Row the Boat” chants that gave the Hustle Belt team chills. The mood was tempered a bit as Wisconsin jumped to an early 14-0 lead, but the Broncos are still in this one at the half, trailing 17-7.
Wisconsin began the game with an impressive 11 play, 75-yard, six minute touchdown drive capped off by an untouched Corey Clement run. It was clear after the drive Western had its work cut out in controlling the Badgers’ running abilities.
WMU responded with a big play to start their first drive - a 22-yard reception to Corey Davis - but the drive died quickly after Zach Terrell was hurried and had to throw the ball away on a 3rd and 8.
Wisconsin’s second drive was even longer. Dare Ogunbowale finished the drive with a one yard touchdown run, finishing out a seven play, 88-yard march as once again, Wisconsin dominated on the ground. It appeared as if the Broncos were hopelessly outmatched by their Big Ten foes.
Western’s second drive moved the ball fairly well, but an overthrown pass by Terrell was followed up by another third down sack and Western was forced to punt again. However, the Broncos then got their first stop, trading a punt with the Badgers after a three-and-out.
The Broncos following drive was an emotional roller coaster featuring a fourth down conversion and two reviewed plays, including a Jarvion Franklin fumble that was returned to Western. On third and goal, Zach Terrell rolled out on a bootleg, juked a Wisconsin defender, and gave Western its first score. It was a 16 plays, 8 minute 45 second drive. Woof, a monster drive indeed.
Wisconsin’s next drive got down to the Bronco 12 yard line, but stalled after a Badger drop in the back of the end zone, and Western was able to force a 30-yard field goal from Andrew Endicott just before the end of the first half at AT&T Stadium.
The biggest question for the Broncos in the second half will be containing Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Surprisingly, the Broncos have been relatively strong between the tackles against Wisconsin’s o-line, but have been vulnerable on the edges.
Luckily, the Bronco offense responded successfully on its touchdown drive. Western has shown it can move the ball, but it’ll have to keep doing that in the second half and shut down the Badger offense. Holding the Badgers to that field goal at the end of the half was very important in that regard.
We’ll see what Western does with the first possession of the second half. The WMU run game won’t be able to do what it normally does against Wisconsin, so expect a fair amount of passing. Western has yet to hit Davis on a deep route, hopefully they’ll be able to exploit that. Moving it through the air will keep Western alive in a game in which they absolutely need to keep pace.