Wisconsin Football: Key matchups to watch vs. Western Kentucky

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Michael Deiter (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Michael Deiter (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Wisconsin Football - Purdue Boilermakers
MADISON, WI – OCTOBER 14: Olive Sagapolu #99 of the Wisconsin Badgers tackles Terry Wright #9 of the Purdue Boilermakers in the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Badgers DL vs. WKU OL

Almost all games are decided in the trenches, an area where the Wisconsin defense will have to prove it can hold its own.  A new-look defensive line will look to take advantage of all the opportunities the Hilltoppers will give them.  Three graduating seniors and injuries leave this unit with little experience.  Senior Olive Sagapolu takes the reins and will be critical to the success of this defense.  The biggest question mark for this Wisconsin team gets its first test.

Aaron Vopal, Kayden Lyles, and Matt Henningsen, defensive lineman expected to contribute this year, will all receive their first taste of college football.  Lyles is the new addition to the unit after moving from the offensive line and Henningsen has come out of nowhere to demand playing time this year.  Even being a walk-on, Henningsen has impressed many throughout camp and could be an unsung hero this year.  All eyes will be on Lyles to see if his transition to a new position will be a lift to this depleted unit.  Vopal’s development will be critical to providing depth for a unit that will need as many bodies as possible to endure the Big Ten gauntlet.

Check out the awesome dynamic between Sagapolu and Lyles towards the end of the episode below.

With so many new players to the defensive line, it might not be such a bad thing to face underwhelming competition.  Western Kentucky had one of the worst offensive lines in the country and early signs show that they may not be improving anytime soon.  WKU actually had the worst rushing attack in the country last year, averaging only 60.8 yards per game.  Along with being dreadful running the ball last year, WKU’s offensive line allowed 48 sacks.

This matchup will give the inexperienced young defensive line time to adjust to the speed and intensity of the college game without overwhelming them.  These young players will probably develop better if they go up against the best offensive lines in the country.  Those tests will certainly come later in the year during conference play, but these guys need time to get their feet wet.

Playing against a sub-par offensive line will allow guys like Lyles, Vopal, and Henningsen to gain some confidence and get a feel for the position.  Also, as far as concern for quality competition, these guys go up against the best offensive line in the country in practice every day so I would not be worried.  Look for Sagapolu to have an absolute field day clogging the middle and getting into the backfield. Expect many players to get solid reps along the defensive front too.