After a disappointing loss to Northwestern that served as a big hit to Maryland's bowl-game hopes, the Terps will travel to Madison on Saturday to take on No. 5 Wisconsin.
We talked to Kristen Larson, the Sports Editor of The Badger-Herald, about what to expect from Wisconsin in Saturday's game. Her answers were edited for clarity, but not content.
1. How serious is Wisconsin as a national title contender this season?
If you ask anyone outside of Madison, they will most likely tell you that the Badgers aren't contenders for a national title this season. Wisconsin football is usually underestimated, and people are very quick to dismiss this team from any sort of talk about a national title. But, this is a team that is 6-0, and its working hard to make sure that it stays that way. The team wants to keep doing better, and I think that they have shown in the past that they can be competitive with schools in the SEC, ACC and Pac-12. Wisconsin is capable of more than people realize, and the team will show everyone this when they make into the national title game.
2. How has the team been so consistently good over the last eight years?
I think it comes down to both the coaches here at Wisconsin and the players that are recruited. Wisconsin football players know that playing for this team is a huge honor, and that they are going to have to work harder than ever if they want to get a starting spot. This team is all about leaving everything on the field and giving 125 percent every game it plays. The Badgers are also super supportive of each other. No one is alone on this team, and the players will always think of how they can help/protect their teammates whenever they can. They have each other's backs, and it shows when they step on the field. No single player is in it for themselves, they're in it for the team as a whole. A victory for one is a victory for all.
Wisconsin has also been blessed with some very talented coaches throughout the years, and those coaches let their players know that they have a high standard set for all of them, and that they expect for each and every player to reach that standard. No one slacks off at Wisconsin, because the coaches let them know that they cannot slack off.
3. Who are the Badgers to look out for?
1) Jonathan Taylor – the freshman running back is 14 yards away from acquiring his 1,000th yard of his career. He has had three games this season with over 200 carrying yards, and his performance is so good that he is a Heisman candidate right now.
2) Natrell Jamerson and D'Cota Dixon – I cannot separate these two, and Maryland is going to have a hard time getting past these two. Wisconsin's safeties this year are on point, and they have been managing to make some really big plays for the defense. Maryland's quarterback better have good aim, because if he is slightly off, odds are Jamerson or Dixon will be there waiting to get a pick-6 for Wisconsin.
4. What is the team's biggest strength and biggest weakness?
This team's biggest strength is its defense. The Badgers have only allowed 21 points from opposing teams during the second half of the game so far this season, and they are working on trying to keep that momentum going into the first half. This defense is physical, tenacious fast. It has the ability of seeing the smallest mistakes in plays and using them to its advantage.
The Badgers biggest weakness is definitely their play during the first quarter of the game. Wisconsin has been struggling this year to come out strong right out of the gate. While the second halves always seem to be outstanding, the first halves have usually been filled with silly mistakes and miscommunication plaguing the team.
5. Wisconsin has had a very easy schedule this season. How big of a disappointment will it be if the team does not make the Big Ten title game?
It is going to take a lot for Wisconsin to not make the Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers would have to start losing in a pretty significant way, and I don't see that happening when you look at the rest of the schedule. All of the right teams have been struggling to get off on the right foot in the Big Ten, and the rest still have some challenging games ahead of them.
I still think that people underestimate the Wisconsin schedule, and I believe that the Badgers have still had a challenging season this far. The team has been struggling to get off on the right foot after losing some key players to injury, but is always working on improving. No season, no schedule is easy for any team, and each game is always going to be a fight that you need to win.
6. What about Maryland do you think will give Wisconsin the biggest problems?
Maryland is a good Big Ten team, and a team that was capable of taking down Minnesota is obviously going to be a concern for Wisconsin. I think the one thing that Wisconsin needs to be cautious of as it enters this game is coverage. Maryland has a very diverse offense, and there are many ways that it can get the ball into the end zone. It will be a challenge for the Badgers defense to ensure that all of the right people are covered, and that no one is allowed the opportunity to make it into the end zone.
7. What do you think would have to happen for Maryland to win this game?
It might sound weird, but I think the key to a Maryland victory this weekend is if Wisconsin gets in its own way. There have been games in the past when the Badgers have let breakdowns in communication and errors on the field affect their play, and this usually allowed for opponents to pull ahead. Sometimes Wisconsin just needs to get outside of its own head and keep moving forward one play at a time. However, if the Badgers keep beating themselves for their small mistakes, it will just give Maryland that much more momentum and make the game easier for the Terps.