Wisconsin Badgers Football Biggest September Games: Washington State Cougars

John Torchio
Patrick McDermott – Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers began the season with a big 38-0 victory over the Illinois State Redbirds. The second game of the season comes Saturday, September 10, 2022, as the Badgers take on the Washington State Cougars. Prior to this season, these two teams had only matched up twice, 1976 and 2007, and the Badgers came away victorious both times.

This is not the typical early-season game for either of these teams. Let’s dive into what makes the Cougars such an interesting matchup for the Badgers.

A Look at the Washington State Cougars

The Cougars are coming off of a solid 2021 campaign where they went 7-6 overall and 6-3 in Pac-12 play. They finished 3rd in the Pac-12 and made it to the Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl game where they lost 24-21 to the Central Michigan Chippewas.

The key to their success was quarterback Jayden de Laura who put up 2,798 pass yards and 23 pass TDs with nine interceptions. What shouldn’t be surprising is that after this excellent season he joined tons of other college athletes in the new tradition of transferring. This meant the Cougars needed to find a replacement.

In the form of a transfer, the Cougars found their new star quarterback in Cameron Ward. This man is the reason why this will be such an important early-season matchup.

Cameron Ward

Last season he played in the FCS for the Incarnate Ward Cardinals. He led them to an 11-2 regular season record and into the FCS Championship where they lost in the second round.

In those 15 games, Ward had some of the most impressive performances ever seen by a college quarterback. He had 13 games with 300 or more yards, seven of 350 or more and three of 400 or more. Additionally, He had multiple TD passes in each game including seven performances of four or more.

There is one game that needs to be highlighted. On November 6, 2021, the Cardinals were at home against the Southeast Louisiana Lions. In a wild 55-52 victory, he went 34/52 in pass attempts with 610 pass yards and seven pass TDs. He had 12 passes of 20 or more yards including an 80-yard TD.

Overall in 2021, he had a 65.1 completion percentage with 4,648 pass yards, 47 pass TDs and 10 interceptions.

Cameron Ward proved himself as quite the impact player with the Cardinals last season. Now he is at the forefront of a big-time FBS school for the first time in his career.

In his first game with the Cougars, he went 25/40 for 215 pass yards and three TDs. It was not his best performance, but it led them to a 24-17 win over the Idaho Vandals.

This game against the Badgers will be a chance for Ward to make a statement.

Wisconsin’s Clutch Defense

The Wisconsin Badgers’ defense is constantly right near the top of college football.

In 2021 they led all of college football as they only allowed an average of 239.1 yards per game, nearly 30 yards less than the next closest (Georgia Bulldogs at 268.9 yards). They only allowed 3108 yards on the season, over 500 fewer than the next closest (Minnesota Golden Gophers at 3624 yards). They came in second in yards per play allowed at 4.17, right behind Georgia at 4.16.

The Badgers were able to accomplish all of this by being solid against both the rush and pass. Ultimately their rush defense was their strongest unit, but let’s focus on the pass defense.

Pass Defense

Their pass defense did some excellent work all season. They were fourth in college football with an average of only 174.3 yards allowed per game. With 2266 total pass yards allowed they were the fifth best in the country. Most impressively, they only allowed nine pass TDs making them one of two teams that did not give up double-digit pass TDs (Washington Huskies with six).

This success could be a bit misleading. The majority of their 2021 opponents did not contain an incredibly strong air assault, but the teams that did severely hurt them.

The most prominent example came against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Wisconsin Defense had to try and defend against the great arm of Adrian Martinez. The pass defense proved useless as Martinez put up 351 pass yards on 23/35 attempts. This included 10 passes of 15 or more yards and five of 20 or more.

If they want to beat the Cougars, they will have to keep Ward from feeling confident about completing a lot of his pass attempts.

Badgers Secondary Standing

The Badgers’ secondary is going to have to step it up big time this season, especially in this early game. Unfortunately, they lost some of their biggest stars including Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams to the draft this off-season.

Despite these two losses the Badgers still have safety John Torchio who recorded 35 total tackles and three interceptions in 2021.

It did not take long for Torchio to put his name in the headlines this season. With just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Redbirds were nearing the endzone when Torchio intercepted a pass and ran it back 100 yards for a Pick-6. His big play-making ability allowed him to record Wisconsin’s first points of the season.

Transfers

Additionally, they brought in three excellent transfers Justin Clark, Cedrick Dort Jr. and Jay Shaw.

Clark is a sixth-year senior out of Toledo. During his four full seasons prior to arriving at Wisconsin, he racked up 113 total tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. He has been playing for a long time so he will add a ton of experience to the Badgers.

Dort Jr. is a fifth-year senior out of Kentucky. He put up some pretty solid numbers in his first four seasons with 51 total tackles including a career-high of 19 in 2021. He should be a great addition with all of his SEC experience.

Finally, Shaw is a fifth-year senior out of UCLA. After not getting much action in his first year he has been extremely dominant. He comes in with 87 total tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He put up a career and team-high with three interceptions in 2021. Shaw should be one of the leaders of the Badgers’ secondary this season.

In college football, the early season non-conference matchups do not usually hold a lot of weight but that is not the case for the Wisconsin Badgers and Washington State Cougars. The Cougars will rely on an incredible quarterback while the Badgers will rely on their impeccable defense. It will be interesting to see who can wear the other down first.

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