MADISON, Wis. — When it comes to nonconference home games, few teams have experienced as much success as Wisconsin. The Badgers have won 38 consecutive such games dating to 2003, which marks the sixth-longest streak of any FBS team since 1946.
That streak doesn’t figure to end Saturday, when Wisconsin will host Florida Atlantic at noon ET inside Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers have been dominant at home against nonconference foes and have posted four shutouts in the last four seasons.
Here are three keys to the game for Wisconsin, as well as a final score prediction.
1. Eliminate silly mistakes
This is not a game that figures to be close for very long, but it’s still important for Wisconsin to solve the problems that ailed the team in the season opener against Utah State. That means fewer dropped passes and penalties, along with improved communication along the offensive line.
Wisconsin had 4 penalties in the first quarter last week and 9 for the game, which is a lot considering the Badgers averaged 3.4 penalties per game last season. Some of the offensive line problems should be solved simply by having a full game under the players’ belts. Michael Deiter has started a game at left tackle finally, and so has Tyler Biadasz at center. The biggest concern is at left guard, where Micah Kapoi must play better and Jon Dietzen continues to battle through ankle problems.
As for the dropped passes, that should sort itself out as well. Wide receiver A.J. Taylor, who dropped 2 passes, saw the first extended action of his young career. He’ll earn more targets as the season progresses.
2. Run the ball, run the ball
Florida Atlantic faced a Navy team in the season opener that ran the triple-option offense, so it’s difficult to discern how poor the Owls’ run defense really is. Navy ran the ball on 68 of its 78 offensive plays. But on those carries, the Midshipmen dominated. Navy’s 68 carries resulted in 416 yards — a 6.1-yards-per-carry average — and 5 touchdowns. Navy tailback Zach Abey rushed for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns in the team’s 42-19 victory against Florida Atlantic.
Wisconsin has the horses at tailback to wear down Florida Atlantic in the trenches. Freshman Jonathan Taylor was excellent in the opener, when he carried 9 times for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown. Bradrick Shaw was listed as questionable with a right leg injury on Wisconsin’s preliminary injury report this week. We’ll see how close to full strength he is once the game begins, but his presence will be key after he carried 18 times for 84 yards with 1 touchdown. If Shaw needs a break, Chris James will be eager to prove his debut with the Badgers was a fluke. James carried 5 times for 15 yards, was flagged for an illegal block and lost a fumble.
Wisconsin won’t run the ball 68 times like Navy did last week. But the Badgers won’t be afraid to run on about two-thirds of their offensive plays, which should amount to anywhere between 40 and 50 carries.
3. Don’t provide Florida Atlantic with early hope
Utah State held a 10-0 lead against Wisconsin until deep into the second quarter. The Badgers managed to tie the score at 10-10 entering halftime and pulled away for a 59-10 victory. But the longer the Aggies were out in front, the more they believed they could pull off a stunning upset, even as 27-point underdogs.
Florida Atlantic will be looking for a similar spark, particularly after the way the Owls played in the season opener. Florida Atlantic led Navy 10-7 in the second quarter before everything fell apart, and Navy outscored Florida Atlantic 35-9 the rest of the way. Owls coach Lane Kiffin is trying to resuscitate a program that finished 3-9 in each of the last three seasons and hasn’t finished with a winning record and bowl appearance since 2008. If Wisconsin can pull ahead early, the game should be over by halftime.
Wisconsin is listed as a 31 1/2-point favorite against Florida Atlantic. The Owls didn’t have much luck running the ball against Navy but did find some success through the air, amassing 286 passing yards and completing balls to eight different players. But if Florida Atlantic opts to throw that much against Wisconsin, the Owls are probably in trouble. The Badgers picked off 3 passes last week because Utah State couldn’t run the ball. Expect similar success for the Wisconsin defense Saturday. Wisconsin 52, Florida Atlantic 10.
Game 1 prediction: Wisconsin 48, Utah State 7; Actual score: Wisconsin 59, Utah State 10.