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Wisconsin Badgers

When the Badgers have the ball

Hawaii’s run defense ranks 104th nationally, allowing 193.6 yards per game. But it came up big last week, holding Navy’s vaunted triple-option attack to 242 rushing yards — nearly 40 less than its average — in a 24-17 win. Linebacker Blaze Soares led Hawaii’s defensive effort with 12 tackles and a late sack.

Since a 54-9 loss to Boise State Oct. 24, the young defense, which has four senior starters, has improved. Hawaii has given up an average of 11 points and 285.7 yards in the past three games, though the quality of opponents had something to do with that. The first two games in that stretch were against New Mexico State and San Jose State, the worst teams in the Western Athletic Conference, who are a combined 5-18. Hawaii’s pass defense has been solid, ranked No. 35 nationally. Safety Mana Silva leads the WAC with six interceptions and the Warriors have picked off seven passes in the past four games.

Still, it will come down to the job they do against UW sophomore tailback John Clay, who has 1,224 rushing yards. Defensive tackles Vaughn Meatoga and Tuika Tufaga have been stout. When quarterback Scott Tolzien goes to the air, he has been looking for Nick Toon, who has caught 17 passes for 301 yards in the past three games.


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Hawaii Warriors

When the Warriors have the ball

Quarterback Bryant Moniz, a sophomore walk-on, took over after starter Greg Alexander suffered a season-ending knee injury Sept. 30 against Louisiana Tech. Moniz lost his first four starts but has come on strong since. He missed a game two weeks ago with bruised ribs but returned last week to throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns.

The Warriors use a four-receiver set and average 348.7 passing yards per game, No. 3 nationally. Slot receiver Greg Salas is second in the nation in receiving yards (129.9 per game) and third in receptions (8.6). Hawaii’s running game is mostly an afterthought, although the Warriors have rushed for 100 yards in four of their past five games.

John Estes has started 53 straight games and is a top-flight center on a line that can be physical. But pass protection is an issue. Hawaii allows 2½ sacks per game. The Badgers will need a pass rush to help a secondary that allowed 364 passing yards to Northwestern in the last game. The Warriors will complete their passes, so tackling and keeping plays in front of the defensive backs are keys.


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Wisconsin Badgers

Special teams

Junior David Gilreath gave the Badgers a big boost with a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown against Northwestern. It was Gilreath’s first touchdown in 163 career kickoff and punt returns. Kicker Philip Welch has straightened things out, making six straight field-goal attempts since a 38-yard miss Oct. 17 against Iowa.

Hawaii leads the nation in punt return coverage; opponents have had just six returns for seven yards this season. Freshman kicker Alex Dunnachie is 11-for-18 on field-goal attempts with a long of 47 yards.


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Hawaii Warriors

Intangibles

It’s the final regular-season home game for 23 Hawaii seniors, who will take part in a traditional “Senior Walk” around Aloha Stadium after the game. The Warriors won all four games in November to put themselves at the brink of a bowl game. They need a win to secure a berth in the Hawaii Bowl.

Since 2003, Hawaii is tied for fifth among non-BCS schools when it comes to wins over opponents from Bowl Championship Series conferences. The eight wins include three over Big Ten opponents — Northwestern, Michigan State and Purdue. The Badgers must win this game and their bowl game to get to 10 victories, a plateau they have reached only five times in school history.


Prediction

The closing act of the Badgers’ regular season is a bit tougher than it looked a month ago when Hawaii was 2-6. The Warriors are known for three things: a dynamic passing offense, winning games at the end of the season and defending their home turf with all the passion they can muster.

The Badgers have two big edges: their running game and the fact that Hawaii is tied for 105th in turnover margin. Clay will attempt to reprise big games at Aloha Stadium by former UW tailbacks Ron Dayne, Michael Bennett and Brian Calhoun.

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Wisconsin Badgers

Hawaii Warriors

 

 

 

 

 

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