December 5, 2009

Five things to watch: Hawaii

It did not take long to realize the Wisconsin football team was staying as focused as possible in the week leading into the regular season finale at Hawaii. With a win, the Badgers would finish with nine wins and a potential Outback Bowl bid. A loss, however, would likely send them elsewhere. Needless to say, there will be plenty on the line at Aloha Stadium later tonight.

Before you settle in to watch the late night festivities from Honolulu, focuses on five things to watch in the last regular season game in all of college football.

1.) UW's pass defense against Hawaii's passing attack:

It has been no secret that the Wisconsin secondary has struggled in recent weeks. During two of the past three games, opposing quarterbacks have thrown for over 300 yards. Teams have been exposing erratic cornerback play and missed assignments from the backend and it was the primary reason the Badgers dropped a heartbreaker at Northwestern two weeks ago.

If the Badgers hope to return to the mainland with a shot at a 10-win season still alive, the secondary will likely need to play at a higher level against the Warriors than it did against the Hoosiers and Wildcats in recent weeks.

"I think for us, like I was saying before, we've had some ups and downs as a secondary and as a unit," UW senior safety Chris Maragos said. "But I think guys are making big strides. The corners are coming along and they're progressing all the time. You're going to go through growing pains with corners. That's the hardest position to play on the field besides quarterback.

"I think, for us, we're trying to continue to get better. There's not a lack of effort or willingness to get better."

2.) Maintaining the business like mantra:

Anytime somebody goes to Hawaii, there will be plenty of distractions and attractions to keep you busy. When a group of 83 players running around the island, it becomes that much harder to keep the team focused. But, heading into the game, that is exactly what the UW coaches had been preaching.

"That's been a huge deal," UW quarterback Scott Tolzien said early in the week. "They (the coaches) want us to have a good time and enjoy our experience there, but the number one priority is that it's another game on our schedule and one that we need to win."

3.) Who wants it more?

For the third straight week, the Badgers will be a part of senior day festivities. Three weeks ago, UW beat Michigan at the final game of the year in Camp Randall Stadium. Two weeks ago, Wisconsin succumbed to an emotional Northwestern squad at Ryan Field on their senior day.

Tonight, the Badgers will face a team from Hawaii looking to win and become bowl eligible, likely playing in the Hawaii bowl against their old coach June Jones. So, for Wisconsin, having been through it already, it knows the intensity will be high.

"It's a big game for them, but it's also a big game for us," Tolzien said. "It's another opportunity to play and get better. That's simply it, right there."

4.) Outlook of the season:

For the Badgers, it's very simple. By winning, the chance at compiling a 10-win season in a year many thought Wisconsin would be down, would still be in play. With a loss, UW would likely see the entire perception of the season fall to the way side after a promising 8-2 start to the year. And with it, a chance at a New Year's Day bowl would also likely fall through the chute.

"You don't want to lose any game," Maragos said. "Especially even a game like this. The big thing is you want to go and handle business out there. I think that's what we're going to try and do. We're going to go out there and we're going to handle business. We don't like losing no matter what it is.

"We just need to go out there and play hard. They're going to play tough, they're going to come out and play hard. We're expecting that. I'm expecting a lot of energy and we're going to have to really match that."

Can Clay and Toon keep it going?

Over the past couple of weeks, both John Clay and Nick Toon have really hit a groove. As a result, the offense has been able to put up huge numbers and score a bevy of points.

During the holiday week, Clay was tabbed the league's offensive player of the year and Toon received conference recognition through his play as well. So, against a Hawaii team that has had its share of problems, particularly in slowing the run, tonight's game will serve as one final opportunity for each explosive player to have another big night.

Game info:

When: Saturday, Dec. 5
Where: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii
Time: 10:30 p.m. central time
Radio: Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

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