For the first time this season the Badgers (5-1-1) blanketed an opponent in their 3-0 win over in-state rival UW-Milwaukee, which fell to 1-6-1 on the season, Sunday at the McClimon Soccer Complex.After the game, Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins said despite the comfortable win, she was most impressed with that blank slate by the Badger’s defense and goalkeeper redshirt junior Genevieve Richard.“The biggest excitement that I had is that we were able to get a shutout, and I think that’s very important for us,” Wilkins said. “We hadn’t gotten one this year, and especially being on our home field. For us, Milwaukee has always been a big competitor for us, so to be able to get a shutout here on a wet day was important.”Wisconsin held the Panthers to only one shot on goal throughout the entirety of the game, as the Badgers’ back line kept the action to a bare minimum for Richard between the posts. In total, the Panthers managed only a meager six shots throughout the game – three in the first half and three in the second half – while the Badgers peppered UWM goalkeeper Paige Lincicum with 17 shots with eight of those on goal.Wisconsin dominated possession over the course of the match, but it was the back line that keyed the shutout, according to Wilkins.“I thought our two centerbacks did better,” Wilkins said of freshman Kylie Schwarz and redshirt junior Alexandra Heller. “I thought Kylie Schwarz was very good today in the back for us and I thought that Ali is getting back to her form that she was last year after her injuries, so I think that was an important element. And getting Lexi Peterson back on the field is huge for us.”After starting the first five games, sophomore Peterson sat out the last two games due to an undisclosed injury, but was back in the lineup Sunday at outside back for the Badgers.Although she did not factor into any of the scoring, Peterson’s return was seen in ways more than just on her stat line.“It was awesome having Lexi back,” junior forward Cara Walls said. “It’s awesome having an outside back that can get forward and having an outside back that steps and doesn’t let people turn. She’s not afraid to get forward and she’s really confident when she steps with the ball, so it makes everything a lot easier for the midfield and the forwards.”Not only was Wisconsin strong in its defensive third, but the Badgers also displayed fireworks in the offensive third as well, especially early on.In just the sixth minute, freshman Rose Lavelle found a wide open redshirt junior Kodee Williams, and after receiving the through pass, Williams finished it off for an early 1-0 Badgers’ lead.“The through ball that was just a great run by Kodee. I could kind of see it unfolding and I saw her make that run so I just slipped it through and she had a wide open shot against the goalie,” Lavelle, who tallied two assists in the game, said.Only eight minutes later, Lavelle facilitated more Wisconsin offense as she finessed a corner kick into the eight-yard box where redshirt sophomore Marisa Kresge managed to track down the ball and head it into the back of the net to extend the lead to 2-0.But for almost the rest of the game the Wisconsin offense was held in check, and only notched the final goal as a result of some sloppy defensive play by the Panthers. Lincicum came out into the 18-yard box to play a pass by one of her defenders, but Lavelle harassed Lincicum into a turnover. Wisconsin’s leading scorer Walls found the loose ball and easily drilled a shot into the wide open net.The lack of Wisconsin offense in the middle part of the game was an area that Wilkins feels needs some fine-tuning before the conference season begins.“I thought we did a better job in the first, like, twenty minutes keeping it wide,” Wilkins said. “I thought it could have been more consistent. I thought sometimes we made the game too complicated and that we could have kept more balls where we gave balls away in bad areas. That caused some things for them to have some chances in the second half and that’s something that we’ll go back with in terms of consistency.”Still, nearly everything went Wisconsin’s way against UWM, as the Badgers blew out their in-state rival in their first home win of the season.“I think every time we’ve gone up, we’ve kind of lost focus and let down a bit, which has let the other team get back in it,” Lavelle said. “So I think we kind of stayed focused even though at the end they had a lot more opportunities than we would have liked. We just fought through it and got the shutout.”
Will the real Trojans please stand up?We’re three weeks into the 2017 season, and we know more or less as much about this USC team as we did heading into opening day. The Trojans kicked off their campaign with an unconvincing win over Western Michigan, rebounded with a statement victory against Stanford but then required two overtime periods to down a double-digit underdog Texas team.Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season, but he has also been picked off six times — already two-thirds of his 2016 total. The two-headed rushing attack of junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Steven Carr, which shined against the Broncos and the Cardinal, was held to less than three yards per carry against the Longhorns. USC’s defense, though formidable, has appeared prone to the occasional big play, which nearly crushed the team last weekend when Texas marched down the field and took the lead with 45 seconds left to play.The Trojans now hit the road for their first game away from the Coliseum this fall. They will face an undefeated Cal team surging with confidence from its Week 3 upset over Ole Miss — and new head coach Justin Wilcox will be eager to exact revenge on his former team (he was USC’s defensive coordinator under former head coach Steve Sarkisian). Though the Bears endured a brutal 2016 campaign, they picked up an opening-week win at North Carolina in addition to beating Ole Miss, and they could very well give the Trojans their biggest test of the year so far come Saturday.But another battle of attrition could spell trouble for this banged-up USC squad, which can ill-afford more injuries — let alone a loss. A slew of key players have been on the sidelines during practice this week, including Jones, junior linebacker Porter Gustin and three other starters. Of course, the Trojans’ injury issues will only make their task more difficult against the hungry Bears.Fortunately, USC can take heart looking back at last year’s matchup. Even if Wilcox’s presence is a massive boost to the defense, this is largely the same roster that allowed USC to torch them for 629 total yards on offense in 2016; Trojan runners bowled the Bears over for 398 yards while Darnold rang up five scores through the air. Granted, 163 of USC’s receiving yards came from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, but junior wideout Deontay Burnett, who has racked up more than 120 yards in four consecutive games dating back to the Rose Bowl, should still keep Cal’s defense very busy.However, can Jones and Carr rebound from their tough night versus Texas? Will a potentially depleted receiving corps get open for Darnold?Can Darnold himself avoid giving the ball away to a Cal defense that ranks third in the FBS in forced turnovers? There is still plenty of confidence in this program, especially after last week’s dramatic win, but the feeling of invincibility that made fans chant “We want ’Bama” last year is fading rapidly. Whether it’s due to unlucky bounces or lack of chemistry, USC hasn’t completely clicked yet this season, and paranoid fans are starting to see upsets looming around every corner.But there still remains a feeling that — when push comes to shove — the Trojans will jump on Darnold’s back and pull through. There was no better example of it than last weekend (save for maybe the Rose Bowl). Darnold, despite his two picks on the game, came out firing with no fear and deadly efficiency with less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts. From the second USC went down, the Trojans’ quarterback was spectacular, showing off his mobility, pocket presence and unmatched improvisational ability.Even with all Darnold’s ability, though, it’s impossible to expect that from him every week. If they keep trying their luck, the Trojans will eventually wind up on the losing end of one of these nail-biters, especially away from home. USC hasn’t seen a deficit it couldn’t overcome in a full calendar year. You wouldn’t expect that streak to come to an end against Cal, who the Trojans haven’t lost to since 2003, but you can be sure the Bears smell blood after USC’s close call against Texas. Depending on which version of the Trojans shows up at Memorial Stadium, we could be in for another heart-stopper.This team has been more roller coaster than hype train so far this season, but I’m still all in. With all the playmaking talent USC has on either side of the ball, there’s no question there is championship quality on this roster — and right now, there doesn’t seem to be a more automatic player in football than Darnold in clutch situations. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Trojans took care of the Longhorns last week. Now it’s time for the bear hunt.Ollie Jung is a senior studying print and digital journalism. He is also a sports editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, Jung Money, runs Fridays.