Scouting the Badgers

Saturday's battle will be the stiffest non-conference test in John Mackovic's short tenure at Arizona. The Badgers are 4-0 and should be the stiffest test for the 2-0 Wildcats. The Cats will have to perform in front of 76,634 hostile fans and an ESPN2 audience.

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Wisconsin Badgers
Last season: 5-7 (3-5 in Big 10)
Starters returning: Off: 8; Def: 3
Head Coach: Barry Alvarez 84-55 (12 years)

The Badgers are off to a great start after struggling in 2001. They are already 4-0 but have not faced a team as good as Arizona. The Badgers have been solid, but have yet to completely dismantle an opponent and actually struggled against Northern Illinois a week ago.

When Wisconsin has the ball
Wisconsin is lead by quarterback Brooks Bollinger. The team captain is two wins away from becoming the winningest signal caller in school history. Arizona coach John Mackovic calls him the best quarterback in the Big-10.

Bollinger isn't a Pac-10 style quarterback, but he gets the job done. He's a mobile player who will run, sprint out and even run the option.

"Bollinger has been the catalyst for that team," said Mackovic. Wildcat linebackers will have to keep an eye on Bollinger because he can be just as dangerous with his legs as with his arm. As a passer Bollinger is steady, but is not the type of quarterback who will throw for 400 yards and kill you solely in the air.

Wisconsin is a running team and Anthony Davis is the man. Like his Arizona counterpart Clarence Farmer, the sophomore Badger has not put up as big a numbers as was expected. After rushing for 184 yards in the season opening win against Fresno State, Davis has just 205 yards in their previous three games.

Wisconsin has a huge line and likes to pound the ball down opposing defenses throats. The speedy Wildcat line has been stellar against the run this year limiting opponents to 73.5 yards a game and held a good Utah rushing attack to just 32 yards last Saturday.

The Wisconsin line averages over 308 pounds and does not have a player under 300 pounds. They will be the strongest and most physical line the Wildcats have faced so far and will have a huge size advantage over the Wildcat defenders. That being said, the line had a terrible game against Northern Illinois, surrendering 10 sacks to their MAC opponent.

To be successful Arizona will have to shut down the run and force the Badgers to the air. While Bollinger is a capable quarterback who certainly knows how to pull out a win, he isn't the kind of passer who can throw his team to victory in a pure aerial assault.

The Badgers surely miss wideout Lee Evans, but they have a very solid cast of young receivers who do a very good job. Three freshmen, Jonathan Orr, Brandon White and Brandon Williams have all contributed, while sophomore Darrin Charles has been solid when healthy.

When Arizona has the ball
Jason Johnson is second in the nation in passing and looks very comfortable with the Wildcat offense. In back-to-back games he has two of the top five passing days in school history.

"He was unbelievable," Mackovic said of Johnson's performance against Utah. "No one played better than Jason."

Bobby Wade and Andrae Thurman both had stellar games against Utah and the added presence of Ricky Williams and Lance Relford have the Wildcat receiving corps as deep as they have ever been.

As good as the passing game has been, the running game has struggled. Both Northern Arizona and Utah game planned to stop the run and were largely successful. All-American candidate Farmer has yet to crack the 100-yard mark, but that doesn't mean he hasn't done his job.

"I was not disappointed in Clarence," said Mackovic.

Wisconsin plays a 4-3, but in reality play a 4-4 with eight men in the box. Their rover is more like a linebacker than a safety and the Badgers scheme to stop the run.

"They just line-up and say, ‘here we are'," said Mackovic.

The Badgers have a tricky pass coverage scheme that has been largely effective. Utilizing a zone/match-up combination Wisconsin has surrendered just 226.2 yards a game in the air. The defense looks like a man-to-man but the defensive backs switch off as receivers cross into other zones. Mackovic called it, "a sequel to the zone-blitz."

"The defense sparks some big plays," Mackovic explained. "They hit hard and go for the ball. Some teams just go for the big hit, they look to knock the ball away."

The Cats need to get the ground game going, but if Wisconsin keeps eight in the box then the Wildcats could have success in the air. The Wildcats are easily the best passing team the Badgers have faced. If the Cats do have trouble running and can't get the big play going, then it will be a long day in Madison. However, if Farmer keeps the Badgers honest and Johnson has time to throw, the Cats could score points in bunches.

OUTLOOK: Wisconsin struggled last week against an inferior Northern Illinois team, while Arizona dominated a Utah team that still had a chance to win in the final moments. This will be the stiffest non-conference road test for the Wildcats since the ill-fated trip to Penn State in 1999. If Wisconsin plays like they did last week and the Cats offense stays on track, the Wildcats could come away with a victory. If the Badgers can grind it out on the ground and get Davis on track, then a win in Madison could be very, very difficult.

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