How Wisconsin can end Western Michigan's undefeated run in the Cotton Bowl
The Western Michigan Broncos rowed the boat to the Cotton Bowl to meet their toughest opponent this season in the Wisconsin Badgers. Despite being one of only two undefeated teams in the nation, P.J. Fleck’s team was questioned all year, but now they can prove everyone wrong by beating the Big Ten runner-up Badgers. Let’s take a look at what to watch on each side of the ball when they face off at 1 p.m. Monday.
What to watch when Western Michigan has the ball
The most intriguing battle will be fought in the trenches in this game. While Western Michigan has one of the best offensive lines in the nation based on past performances, they have not faced a front-seven as tough as Wisconsin’s. Right tackle Taylor Moton allowed only eight pressures on 408 passing snaps this year, so his and left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor’s matchup against Wisconsin’s star edge rushers will be one to watch. The Badgers’ T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel combined to record 13 sacks and 92 total pressures this season, but will have their work cut out for themselves if they want to get to quarterback Zach Terrell.
If the line can protect Terrell then Western Michigan’s signal-caller will be probably trying to get the ball into the hands of Corey Davis in the star wide receiver’s last college game. The duo of Terrell and Davis has been deadly as the quarterback leads the nation with an adjusted completion percentage of 80.8 percent and Davis had the most receiving touchdowns in college football with 18. On Wisconsin’s side, it will be most likely cornerback Sojourn Shelton who will draw the tough assignment of covering Davis. Shelton had an excellent season as he did not allow a single touchdown in coverage on 73 targets, allowing a passer rating of only 40.3 in the process.
What to watch when Wisconsin has the ball
Although the Wisconsin offensive line has not been as dominant as the one of Western Michigan, its best player, left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, is among the very best offensive linemen in the nation. Ramczyk allowed only one sack this season and his dominance might lead to the Broncos moving edge rusher Keion Adams, their best pass rusher, to the other side. Adams – who recorded 7 sacks and 51 total pressures this season – might find more success against redshirt freshman right tackle David Edwards, especially against the run.
And defending the run will be a key for the Western Michigan defense as they prepare to face Corey Clement, who rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his last eight games. Although Clement is not among the most elusive backs in the nation, Wisconsin’s patience with the running game can lead to him having a big day. Broncos inside linebacker Robert Spillane will play a key role against the Clement as he has been Western Michigan’s best run defender and leads the team with 46 defensive stops. Spillane and fellow WMU linebackers beating second-level blocks will be a key to the Broncos defense coming off the field and avoiding long drives.
PFF stat to know
A lot will hinge on how the Western Michigan offensive line can protect quarterback Zach Terrell in this game. Although the unit has not faced a defense as stingy as that of Wisconsin, the numbers speak for themselves: the Broncos line has allowed 59 total pressures on 359 passing plays in the regular season, leading to the No. 21 pass-blocking efficiency rating in the nation.
Prediction: Wisconsin by 3
(Line: Wisconsin, -7.5)
The Broncos have been in the spotlight for the past couple months and faced immense pressure to go undefeated; however, for the first time in a while, they will be the underdogs and will have nothing to lose against the favored Badgers. As a result, have no doubt that Western Michigan will put up a fight and will be looking to provide Corey Davis a sendoff that he deserves. Still, while WMU will show that it had every right to play in this game, the physicality and talent advantage of the Wisconsin team will be probably too much for Fleck’s team to overcome.