December 27, 2008

Breakdown: Wisconsin vs. Florida State

MADISON, Wis. - After laboring through the rigors of Big Ten play, Wisconsin finished its roller coaster season with a win against a non-conference opponent in Cal-Poly. Now, the Badgers will play its second straight non-conference opponent when it takes on Florida State later today in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Before the team's take the field in Orlando, BadgerBlitz.com breaks down the game to give a closer look inside the match-up.

When Wisconsin has the ball:

There is no doubt the Badgers will attempt to establish the running game early in the game with hopes of wearing down Florida States relatively undersized defensive line. By doing so, UW will attempt to take the Seminoles explosive pass rush out of the equation while still moving the ball at a decent rate.

Should the Badgers struggle against FSU's front four and have to resort to moving the ball through the air, it obviously will not work in the Badgers favor. Besides the fact Florida State has excellent speed at the linebacker position, its safeties are very quick and with Rhode's Scholar winner Myron Rolle, the Seminole secondary is also very smart.

A key ingredient to Badger success is the play-action pass. If FSU is able to snuff that and misdirection runs during the course of the game, it will put itself in a favorable position to claim a bowl victory.

For UW, both P.J. Hill and John Clay, as well as the Badger linemen need to exert themselves as a physical force the Seminoles are anything but used to. The Badger running backs and tight ends, positions Florida State has struggled against throughout the season, could eliminate any benefit of the Seminoles speed with above average and physical performances. That would also take any pressure off junior quarterback Dustin Sherer who will start for the first time in a bowl game.

When Florida State has the ball:

What do Terrelle Pryor, Darryl Clark and Christian Ponder have in common? Well, they are all very good quarterbacks that can hurt you just as much with their feet as their arms.

Earlier in the season, the Badgers had plenty of moments where mobile quarterbacks exposed the defense. While Ponder probably is not at the same level athletically as Pryor or Clark, he still possesses a great knack for pulling the ball down and moving the chains on the ground.

UW will need to pressure the Seminole signal caller and that starts with the Badger front four, three of which (Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk will be playing in their final collegiate tilt.

Considering FSU has a somewhat young and inexperienced offensive line, it is not too far fetched to think the Badgers can get into the Seminole backfield. But still, at points during the season the UW defensive line has underperformed, so a gauge will not be established until the game unfolds.

When thinking of Florida State football, one of the first things that come to mind is athleticism. While this seasons version and teams of recent memory do not come close to matching the teams of the late nineties, it still possesses a good amount of explosive athletes, starting with running back Antoine Smith. The Badgers will need to stay disciplined and tackle well if it has any hopes of upending FSU in its backyard.

Special teams:

Florida State has two of the nation's premier specialists in its special teams unit. Place-kicker Graham Gano won the Lou Groza award as the nations top place kicker and kick return specialist Michael Ray Garvin made All-ACC.

Combine those two facets of the Seminole special teams as well as UW's inability to perform at a consistent level in certain phases and it could turn into a long day for the Badgers. Wisconsin has had nearly a month to prepare for the game so one would think special teams would be a main focus. It better be if the Badgers hope to avoid its second straight bowl loss.

Some help from UW specialist David Gilreath would do nothing but boost the confidence of the Badger offense. He possesses big play potential both returning kicks and punts, but has yet to break one. Still, shortening the field for the Badger offense will be essential, especially with the way freshman kicker Philip Welch has performed this season. By making the freshman All-American team, Welch has proved he can be counted on to get the Badgers on the board.

Prediction:

With the game being played only a couple of hours from campus, Florida State will likely hold the edge in fan support. Still, the Badgers will have something to prove following its up and down season and will thrive on the environment. Much of the talk heading into this game has been the speed of Florida State, but physicality outmatches speed in many cases.

After a first quarter that sees both teams trying to feel each other out, the Badgers score first and take a 13-7 lead into the break. Then, in the second 30 minutes, the Badgers running game will wear down the Seminole defense as Clay and Florida native Zach Brown rush for scores as the Badgers take down the Seminoles and earn a Champs Sports Bowl victory.

UW wins 27-20.

Lea's season record: 8-4

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