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Big Ten preview: Wisconsin Badgers

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Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave (2) throws a one of two first-half touchdown passes to wide receiver Robert Wheelwright at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, on Sept. 12. Wisconsin won, 58-0. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave (2) throws a one of two first-half touchdown passes to wide receiver Robert Wheelwright at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, on Sept. 12. Wisconsin won, 58-0. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

2014 record: 11-3

Head coach: Paul Chryst (first year, 3-1)

2015 record so far: 3-1, No. 19 in AP poll

Record vs. OSU since 2005: 1-7

What’s happened so far in 2015: Ranked No. 20 to begin the season, the Wisconsin Badgers started on a low note with a 35-17 loss to the then-No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide. Junior running back Corey Clement, who was the heir to the position following the departure of Melvin Gordon, was injured during the game. The Badgers put up a mere 40 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide, a drastic drop from their 320.1 average in 2014. However, the following three weeks were much better for the Badgers, as Wisconsin dismantled its opponents — the Miami Redhawks, Troy Trojans and Hawaii Rainbow Warriors — by a combined score of 114-3. The three wins marked the first time the Badgers held an opponent to three or fewer points in three consecutive games in the modern era. As conference play begins, it remains to be seen if the Badgers can continue their dominance against stronger teams.

Key offensive player: In 2014, the Badgers relied heavily on Gordon to lead their offense, as redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave averaged only 135 yards per game. With Wisconsin’s running game a question mark as redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal and redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale continue to compete for the No. 1 spot in the absence of Clement, Stave is thrust into a bigger role in the Badgers’ offensive game. Through the first four games, Stave has averaged 207.5 yards per game and is only two touchdowns shy of matching his 10-game total from last season. Stave has also seen his efficiency improve this season, as he is throwing for a career-high 66.1 percent completion rating.

Key defensive player: Senior linebacker Joe Schobert has been a standout on defense for the Badgers. Schobert and his 28 tackles has been a driving factor in a Wisconsin defense that has held its last three opponents to a combined three points. The senior has already doubled his sack total from last season, and his six sacks place him at fourth in the nation. He has also equaled his forced-fumble total of two and is tied for first in the country in tackles for loss.                                                                                                                        

Weaknesses: The biggest weakness for Wisconsin is the inexperience it has on the offensive line and in the backfield. The Badgers currently only have two returning starters on the offensive line, leading to fluidity at right guard and right tackle. While the running game has improved from Week 1, it remains to be seen if Deal and Ogunbowale can produce enough while Clement recovers from sports hernia surgery.

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