Thanks again to Jake Kocorowski from Bucky's 5th Quarter for taking the time to answer these questions for us. You can check out my Q&A with them here.
1) How has this year been going with Paul Chryst leading Wisconsin? Are fans happy with the team's performance?
JK: If you were to ask Wisconsin fans and media before fall camp what the Badgers' record would be if junior running back Corey Clement would miss over half of their games due to injury -- along with three of their projected offensive linemen and two emerging receiving targets being injured through the season and depend upon redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave and a passing game that ranked near the bottom 10 in the FBS in 2014 -- there wouldn't be much optimism. However, Wisconsin heads into Maryland with a 7-2 record (4-1 in the Big Ten) with a gritty, "next man up" mentality, and there has to be credit given to Chryst and his staff for not letting their players lie down and give up despite the plethora of injuries.
Clement's still coming back from a sports hernia surgery that kept him out of seven games, and an offensive line that's had at least five different starting combinations will, at least from what we know on Saturday morning, will start for the second consecutive week together. The defense, despite the 500 yards plus they gave up against Alabama, has been the strength of this team and leads the FBS in scoring defense.
Many fans thought the team would lose at least two games -- the Alabama game and some game on their conference schedule -- though quite a few probably didn't see the home loss to Iowa as that one defeat in conference. The loss to the Hawkeyes stings, as if there wasn't a fumble near the goal line late in the game, Wisconsin -- despite all the injuries and not having Clement -- would have probably won and been in the driver seat for the Big Ten West division title. The wins haven't been pretty this year, but considering all this team's gone through, the fans are pretty realistic in expectations this season.
2. Running back Corey Clement reemerged last week against Rutgers, putting up a dominant 3-TD, 115 yard performance. Is he once again 100% healthy?
JK: He said after the game last Saturday that he was about 85 percent, which was shown in his 58-yard scamper in the third quarter that should have been a touchdown, but he doesn't have that top-end speed yet to finish off those long runs.
Despite that, the benefits of having their star running back returning paid huge dividends last week. An offense that rushed for just under 153 yards per game through their first eight games (88th in the FBS) ran for 209. Clement's patience and vision, along with a great first step and explosiveness to the second level of the defense, made the patchwork offensive line look solid.
An 85 percent Clement still is an upgrade when inserted into the lineup. While Dare Ogunbowale and Alec Ingold -- both players who converted to running back -- have played admirably in his absence, especially Ogunbowale in the passing game with 27 receptions, Clement's a bonafide stud whose presence in the lineup sparked a balanced offensive game last week.
3. What has the biggest surprise been this season for Wisconsin? The biggest disappointment?
JK: The biggest surprise has probably been the emergence of true freshman inside linebacker Chris Orr. Granted, he's out this week against the Terps with a leg injury, but the 6'0, 228-pound freshman stepped in when junior Leon Jacobs was injured and has recorded 44 tackles before missing last week's game against Rutgers -- which right now ranks tied for third on the team. I'd also rank the emergence of senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert as another one, as the former walk-on leads the team in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (14.5), while is second on the team in tackles (56). He's currently ranks fourth in the FBS in tackles for loss and sixth in the nation in sacking opposing quarterbacks.
Stave's emergence, with the passing game carrying the Wisconsin offense for the majority of the season to the tune of 250 yards gained through the air, is a pleasant surprise. He's throwing the ball with anticipation and has improved over his previous three seasons.
Disappointment comes two-fold starting with an at-times anemic running game sans-Clement. The running game wouldn't live up to last year's record-setting precedent, especially with Wisconsin losing Melvin Gordon and three starters on the offensive line. Without Clement for the better part of the season, the stereotypical Wisconsin offense has had to rely on Stave and the passing game -- which outside of the Iowa game -- has actually carried the team.
The biggest disappointment comes from the critical, conferencing opening loss to Iowa. Stave, who has looked much improved since the quarterback guru in Paul Chryst has returned home to Madison, turned the ball over four times (two interceptions, two fumbles) in what may have been his worst performance of his career. Wisconsin's defense stifled the Hawkeyes' offense, with Schobert recording three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries in that game. A goal line fumble may keep Wisconsin from its second-consecutive Big Ten West division title, due to Iowa having an easier conference schedule (no Michigan State or Ohio State in its crossover match-ups).
4. If you were game planning against Wisconsin, how would you attack them on offense and what would you do defensively to stop them when they have the ball?
JK: Defensively, put pressure on Stave. Iowa got to the former walk-on early and often a month ago, and if Maryland can get pressure on him with that defensive line or front seven, mistakes could happen that would go in the Terps' favor. Clement's still not fully back, so Chryst's offense still can't completely ride on the momentum of their star gamebreaker.
Offensively is a tough story with Aranda's defense, as opposing offenses have only scored six touchdowns in the last eight games. I'd recommend trying to get the Badgers' defenders out in space, as they've been prone to miss some tackles from time to time (17 against Alabama).
5. Complete this sentence. ________ will win on Saturday because _____________.
JK: Wisconsin will win on Saturday because of its defense containing Maryland's playmakers on offense, and the fact the Badgers a rejuvenated running game, combined with a competent passing game, should be able to create some problems in their advantange. The Terps' offense averages 184 yards per game on the ground, but the Badgers are fifth in the FBS in rush defense (95.7 yards per game), and the Badgers' secondary can contain Maryland's passing game that ranks 113th in the nation.
Maryland's defense gives up 167 yards on the ground per contest, and with Clement back -- the running game could get a second straight week of improved performance. Opening up the running game could keep the ferocious Maryland pass rush that's fifth in the nation in sacks at bay, and allow Stave and his receivers to exploit the Terps' secondary even further.
Turnovers and special teams play -- you can guarantee the Badgers will scheme for Will Likely -- could help keep this close, but Wisconsin should head into their bye week 8-2 on the season.
BONUS question - What's your favorite type of cheese and what is the best beer from Wisconsin that Maryland fans need to know about?
JK: Honestly, I'm not a cheese guy (I loathe mac and cheese). Weird being a Wisconsin native, I know. I can never go wrong with a solid cheddar on a BBQ bacon cheeseburger, however.
The best beer from Wisconsin? Ohhh, that's a subjective question. I know some beer snobs may give me grief here, but New Glarus' Spotted Cow is my favorite and go-to beer at the moment. There are some really good beers from Madison breweries like Ale Asylum (Hopalicious is one of their beers that instantly is a fan favorite) along with Capital Brewery on the far west side of town. Last week at a bar down on State Street during Halloween (trying to relive my youth with one of my old roommates -- not recommended, you feel old quick), I tried a Polka City Porter, which was the smoothest dark beer that I've ever had, and may become my new go-to drink.