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Wisconsin a team controlling its own destiny — and its opponents

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 05: Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement (6) looks for an opening during the second half of an NCAA football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Northwestern Wildcats on November 05, 2016, at Ryan Field, Evanston, IL. (Photo by Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire)

With a defense as good as Wisconsin’s is, all an offense needs to do is put some points up on the board. It doesn’t need to win the game. Rather, it simply needs to move the ball and not turn it over.

That’s exactly what the Badgers have been asking of their offense in 2016.

Wisconsin hasn’t been great on offense, but more often than not, the Badgers have been able to do just enough to get a win. Though they have had some explosive outings — the 54-10 win over Akron comes to mind as does the 30-6 beat down of Michigan State — Wisconsin’s offense thrives when it comes to winning close games.

The Badgers beat Iowa, 17-9, in a slugfest at Kinnick Stadium. They beat then No. 7 Nebraska by six points, 23-17, in a game that had to go into overtime.

With a big offensive line, a traditionally strong run game and game-managers at quarterback in Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston, the Badgers look to wear down teams on offense. They pound the football and throw when the opportunity presents itself. More often than not, though, it’s the running game that makes the biggest impact for Wisconsin’s offense. And with senior running back Corey Clement leading the way, with freshman Bradrick Shaw and explosive scatback Dare Ogunbowale peppered into the backfield, why not?

It has been an efficient if not downright dominant (at times) strategy for the Badgers. They’ve rushed for well over 100 yards as a team in every single one of their wins, rushing for 200-plus yards in two games this season — against Akron (294 yards) and Nebraska (223).

Wisconsin didn’t rush for 200-plus yards this past weekend against Northwestern, but as a team, the Badgers sure got close. In a 21-7 win, they rushed for 190 yards, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Clement led the way with 106 yards and a touchdown, while junior wideout Jazz Peavy took a arc-motion handoff 46 yards to the house for a second quarter touchdown.

“We practiced it all week,” Peavy told Mike Lucas of the team website, referencing his touchdown run.”When it finally gets called in a game, you know it’s coming, you know it’s going to happen, you know you’re going to have room to run usually, so it’s exciting.

“I knew a lot of people were going to be pursuing that way,” he said of the play-action away from his run. “And I just found the right lane to cut back. I haven’t done something like that since high school (Kenosha Tremper).

“It felt great. I had guys down the field blocking and I just executed it. Plays like that get the crowd going, get our sideline going, get a lot of energy in the guys.

“It’s the ignition of excitement.”

If Peavy’s run didn’t ignite excitement among the Wisconsin fanbase, the Badgers’ record as of late should. After losing two very tough games in a row to then No. 4 Michigan and then No. 2 Ohio State, the Badgers have rattled off three wins a row.

Clement and the run game have been good for Wisconsin, but as always, it’s the defense that has been leading the way during this stretch. The Badgers held Iowa to only 236 yards as a team. Nebraska did notch 305 yards but Wisconsin picked quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. off twice, and Northwestern could only find the end zone once in front of its home crowd.

Now tied for the Big Ten West division lead with Minnesota and Nebraska (all three teams have a 7-2, 4-2 B1G record) the Badgers effectively control their own destiny. They have already beat the Huskers this season and they’ll have an opportunity to beat Minnesota in the final game of the season. So if they win out, Wisconsin will be able to knock off Minnesota, and that’s if the Golden Gophers beat Nebraska, who they play this weekend. But even if Nebraska wins out, the Badgers will own the tie-breaker over the Cornhuskers thanks to the head-to-head win at Camp Randall a few weekends ago.

It’s literally as easy as that.

If Wisconsin simply keeps winning, it will face either Michigan or Ohio State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. And with games against Illinois (3-6) and Purdue (3-6) coming up before a test against Minnesota, it’s going to be tough to count the Badgers out — especially if they can continue relying on their strong run game and elite defense.

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