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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Preview: Can Badgers start fast this week?

The Badgers look to stay hot after an impressive Week 1 performance. Can they do that against a Lane Kiffin-led Florida Atlantic Owls team?

When: Sat. Sept. 9; 11am CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: First meeting
Last Meeting: None
Line: Wisconsin (-31.5)

Wisconsin is still scoring points…or at least it seems as if that won’t ever stop and with Florida Atlantic coming to Camp Randall for the first-ever meeting between the two teams that sentiment may hold true.

The Owls have a lot of attention on them thanks to some guy named Lane Kiffin leading the program. However, on the field they have plenty of questions left to answer.

Does this mean an easy one for the hosts, or will the ghost of slow starts past rear its ugly head again? Let’s take a look at the game ahead for the Badgers.

1 Burning Question: Who is Wisconsin’s starting running back?

Week 1 gave us a really good glimpse of why New Jersey prep standout Jonathan Taylor wasn’t going to be redshirted. He led the Badgers in rushing, needing just nine carries to break off 88 yards and showcasing something no one else in the backfield has.

But, it was just one week and expected starter Bradrick Shaw had 87 yards of his own as well.

There’s also Pitt transfer Chris James, who was the star of spring and earned a hard look in fall camp as well. He didn’t see much of the ball last week, carrying the ball five times for 15 yards. But, the coaching staff has indicated he is in the mix once again this week.

Week 2 provides a silver plater for Wisconsin’s running game, as Florida Atlantic were just repeatedly punched in the mouth by Navy and let up 416 yards on the ground alone. Sure, the Badgers are going to look to be more balanced, but you can bet the three big names in the Badgers backfield are going to get every opportunity to seize the full-time starter role.

My money is on Jonathan Taylor, and that’s because he brings all of the elements of a successful Badgers running back to the table already. He’s got power, speed, vision and an ability to pass block. Let’s see if he can follow up a great Week 1 with another set of wow moments in Week 2.

2 Key Stats:

7: That is the number of consecutive games since a Wisconsin QB threw an INT

A look at Alex Hornibrook’s 2016 stat line and you might be really surprised to see this number be true. However, the Badgers haven’t thrown an interception since a visit to Evanston to take on Northwestern last season. Overall, UW’s quarterbacks have attempted 131 passes without an interception and have eight touchdowns in the same span. That’s a winning combination and a good building block to hopefully continue.

40: That was Florida Atlantic’s rushing output in Week 1

Seeing that number and knowing that Wisconsin gave up just 85 total yards on the ground last week should excite Badgers fans and the UW defense. Part of the reason for the small rushing output of the Owls was getting behind early, as they only attempted 24 rushes last week. That adds up to an average of 1.7 yards per carry. Good luck against a Badgers defense that has allowed fewer than 100 yards in 17 of 28 games in the Paul Chryst era.

3 Players to Watch:

D’Andre Johnson, QB (Florida Atlantic): Lane Kiffin isn’t the only known quantity for the Owls. Jackson is the star of the current season of Netflix hit ‘Last Chance U.” He’s also part of a three-way battle at quarterback. Kiffin brought him in to take over this offense, but that hasn’t happened just yet. Can Jackson impress against a Badgers secondary that seems as difficult to work against this season as last?

Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin): The Badgers really didn’t open up the passing game much last weekend, but that didn’t stop one of the rising stars from getting his first career touchdown. Cephus overcame some big time family tragedy this offseason and hauled in three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown. If the Badgers are going deep in this one, expect Cephus to be the main target. Let’s see if he builds off the momentum from last week.

Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE (Wisconsin): UW’s defensive line is known more for being stingy and run-stuffing dynamos. However, the only player to record a sack last week against Utah State was one of the biggest rising names in the offseason — redshirt freshman defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk. He’s got the rare combination of size, speed and strength that make him dangerous. With Chikwe Obasih out with a knee injury, Loudermilk will get even more chances than he did this past week. Can he continue to wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks and help make UW’s defense even more dangerous?

Prediction:

The Lane Kiffin disaster train rolls in to Madison this week, and while the national attention will likely be on Kiffin, the Badgers are well equipped to beat down the Owls in a big way. Navy’s triple-option offense isn’t easy to defend, but neither is Wisconsin’s power run game with three capable running backs and a budding pass attack as well. Add in Wisconsin’s physical and opportunistic defense and there’s little doubt this game ends in a Badgers blowout of Florida Atlantic.

Wisconsin 55, Florida Atlantic 6

*all stats are from CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted. 

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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