December 29, 2009

Five things to watch: Miami

The 2009 version of Wisconsin football is set to come to reach its finish tonight when the Badgers take on the Miami Hurricanes at the Champs Sports Bowl. Before the teams square off on the field, BadgerBlitz.com gives you five things to watch in tonight's game.

1.) Staying balanced:

Over the course of the regular season, UW was the model of offensive distribution, consistency and balance. The Badgers have averaged 206.7 yards per game on the ground and 209.2 through the air. That type of balance is something not many teams across the nation can boast about and is something that is not easily achieved.

Should the Badgers exhibit another game of such efficient offense, they will likely be in a good position to finish the season with 10 wins, something the school hasn't done since Bret Bielema's initial season at the helm.

Against Miami, the Badgers will almost assuredly start the game by asserting its running game. If that portion of the offense can get established, UW will likely have a field day through the air off the play-action pass.

2.) Avoiding the Champs Sports Bowl repeat:

A season ago, in the same bowl, a Florida State team that eventually went on to win 42-13 dominated the Badgers. At the time the loss served as a bitter end to one of the more disappointing seasons in recent UW history. But at the same time the loss served as an effective catalyst entering the 2009 season.

Now, playing in the same bowl for the second straight season, and against another ACC opponent, UW has a chance to redeem itself and head into 2010 as a team with plenty of momentum.

"To be able to say that we're one of the few football teams in the country that can take our last game and walk off the same exact field against a quality opponent and find out exactly how far we have come in a year," Bielema noted. "(That's) the only thing we can ask for."

3.) Three-headed attack:

Wisconsin has John Clay as its consistent and heavily ridden feature back. He is a tough runner and seems to always fall forward. He will likely be one of the tougher backs the Hurricanes will have seen in 2009.

At the same time, Miami, though it doesn't have the one featured back like UW does, has three runners that have been effective on the season. All three backs (Graig Cooper, Damien Berry and Javarris James) have averaged of over five yards per carry. James, the runner with the least yards, still has nearly 500 on the season.

By rotating in three backs, kind of like Wisconsin does at times, Miami is able to always have a fresh runner. And that will be one of the more interesting aspects of the game.

4.) Forcing the 'Canes into turnovers:

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in all of America. If you paid attention to Miami early in the year, it was obvious he was a playmaker that was able to help his team to victory in big games. By the end of the year, he threw for 3,164 yards, 23 touchdowns and completed nearly 60 percent of his throws. On the flip side, he did throw a pretty high number of interceptions (17).

He had a good and solid season, but was by no means great. He is susceptible to the interception bug and if pressure, has a tendency to make bad decisions. If the Badgers defensive line, anchored by ends O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt can get into the backfield, the rest of the Badger defense could be in a position to make a play.

5.) Special teams fireworks:

Throughout the season, the Badgers have been rather inconsistent in kick return coverage. Immediately, Ray Small's touchdown return at Ohio State comes to mind. Against Miami, a team that has had its fair share of struggles in the department, special teams could be one of the main turning points of the game.

The Badgers will need to be strong in all phases of kickoffs, punts and field goals. That means Philip Welch will need to capitalize on his opportunities and Brad Nortman needs to be quick with the ball and get off good, quality kicks.

Miami has some burners as their returners that have potential to reel off big plays. UW will need to thwart that with disciplined play in this area of the game.

Prediction:

Hanging around the football coaches and players all season long, I really got the feeling that they were focused throughout while carrying a chip on the shoulder. It was obvious that the loss to Florida State was a driving force all the way through the season.

With that being said, I think it's pretty obvious that the team is well prepared and focused entering the game with Miami. On the surface, there aren't many people around the country giving the Badgers a chance. Citing speed versus power as the main separating factor, Miami is supposed to blow out Wisconsin.

I just don't see it that way. I feel that the Badgers have a physical offensive line the likes the Hurricanes have not seen. UW will punch them in the mouth and assert itself physically, led by John Clay. I see it being a close game, but by reading some comments from Miami players, I get the sense that they may be a bit overconfident.

If that's the case, they will be in for a rude awakening. I like the Badgers 27-24 in this one.

Lea's season record: 10-2

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