BY JEFF BERNIERThe Wisconsin Badgers’ bread and butter last season was their overwhelmingly stingy defense, which ranked among the nation’s best for much of 2015. A strong run game, coupled with steady, if unspectacular quarterback play lead the Badgers to another double digit win season. The Wisconsin Badgers of 2016 have picked up right where they left of last season.
Edging out LSU last week at historic Lambeau Field opened up a lot of eyes around the country to Wisconsin’s potential. It also showed the fickle nature of preseason rankings, as Wisconsin had been unranked heading into their matchup with LSU.
The Wisconsin Badgers (#10, 20) dominated the Akron Zips (11) in their first game at Camp Randall Stadium, winning 54-10. The home team racked up an impressive 586 yards of total offense, while limiting the Zips to just 224 yards.
The Badgers put together a methodical opening drive to start the game, going 83 yards on 13 plays. Senior running back Corey Clement, who is finally healthy after missing much of last season due to a lingering sports hernia and groin issues, looked spry, running for 47 of those 83 Badger yards. Clement capped off the drive with a four yard rush right up the gut.
After a three-and-out by the Akron Zips on their first possession, the Badgers would go 85 yards on 10 plays down to the one-yard line where they would face a fourth and one. Clement would have a clear lane into the endzone but the senior slipped on the Camp Randall turf while making his first cut. Instead of a 14-0 Bucky lead, Wisconsin would turn the ball over on downs.
The defense would quickly pick up Clement and the Badgers.Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson would be sacked by Wisconsin linebacker Alec James in their own endzone for a safety on the subsequent drive.
Wisconsin would quickly find the endzone following Akron’s safety punt with Junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy having a big hand. Peavy had catches of 10 and 11 yards, while also making a 23 yard run that put the Badgers on the 30 yard line of Akron. Clement would finish things off, this time keeping his footing on his one-yard run, diving over the defense.
From there, the rout was on. Wisconsin, who undoubtedly heard the grumblings that their #10 AP ranking was simply too high, excelled in all three phases of the game Saturday afternoon.
Senior quarterback Bart Houston would connect with Jazz Peavy for his two touchdowns late in the 2nd quarter. Throw and catch scores of 13 and 34 yards were sandwiched around an Akron punt return touchdown by Jo Jo Natson which was the only real noise the Zips made all afternoon in Madison.
Wisconsin would take a 30-10 lead into halftime, lead by brilliant halves from both Clement and Houston. Houston was 12/19 for 206 yards passing in the first half, while Clement racked up 111 yards rushing with two scores on his 21 carries.Clement did not play in the second half as he was held out as a precaution after having his ankle fallen on by a tackling Akron defender late in the first half.
Budding NFL wide receiver prospect Robert Wheelwright III continued to flash his immense potential on the outside; at times, making quarterback Bart Houston look NFL ready himself. The senior wideout finished with 4 catches for 99 yards on the afternoon.
Jazz Peavy lead Bucky with seven catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers played many of their backups in the second half as Wisconsin continued to pile on the points. Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook looked poised during limited action, finishing 5/5 with 61 yards passing, including a six-yard touchdown to Alec Ingold.Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson struggled mightily Saturday after his 407 yard, six touchdown performance just one week ago. The Junior finished with just 108 yards through the air.
The Badgers’ defense has been one of the best in the nation over the course of last season. With many starters having returned here in 2016, it will be the defense having a huge say in Bucky’s title hopes moving forward.
Wisconsin (#10, 20) will stay home at Camp Randall Stadium for next week’s matchup with Georgia State (02). The game will kick off at 11:00 am Central standard time, as Wisconsin looks to continue their tune up toward conference play which begins the following week in a tough test at Michigan State.