A closer look at Wisconsin

WISCONSIN RUNS THE ball, that's what they've been known for, but in their season opener it was their first-year, transfer quarterback who shined brightest (and doesn't that sound familiar.) So what can the Beavs expect on Saturday, and how is the Wisconsin defense shaping up?

Mike Riley has called the biggest home non-conference game in OSU football history. We're not sure we'd go that far but is it important? Oh yes. It's ended up being the season opener for OSU, the Beavs got rocked in Madison last year 35-0 and after Saturday, Oregon State has a week off before they play UCLA.

And that's just for starters.

Badger coach Bret Bielema for the second straight year has given the QB reigns to ACC transfer, and former Maryland junior Danny O'Brien directed a short, precision passing attack in the close 21-16 win over Iowa State. He was also clutch in the fourth quarter. (Last year, all Russell Wilson did in his one season at Wisconsin was to tear up the college game, earn his way into the NFL Draft and just recently, win the Seattle Seahawks' starting job as a rookie.)

How good was he? O'Brien was 19-of-23 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 1 win, and two of those incompletions were drops.

Wisconsin's bread and butter is still expected to be their running attack, it's just that it's not the only thing the Badgers have going for them on offense -- the pass should continue to nicely complement the run for the Badgers in 2012.

Senior Montee Ball topped the 100-yard mark last week. A Heisman finalist last season, he rushed for 1,923 hashes with 33 touchdowns in 2011. Junior James White is a capable backup who ran for 713 yards and six TDs last season.

Wisconsin is replacing three-fifths of their offensive line this season but on paper they look to have reloaded rather than rebuilt up front, with right tackle Rob Havenstein helping lead the way.

The receiving game is led by junior wideout Jared Abbrederis. He led Wisconsin with 55 receptions for 933 yards and 8 TDs last season and also returns kicks. But Wisconsin lost a star receiver to graduation (Nick Toon) and the other talent at the receiver spot is thin and unproven. Opponents might well focus (after first focusing on stopping the run) on trying to take him away.

Tight end Jacob Pedersen could become more of a threat, he had 356 receiving yards with eight touchdowns last season.

Northern Iowa stacked the box big-time this past Saturday and after their offense finally got moving, nearly pulled off the monster upset in the end.

OVER ON DEFENSE, Wisconsin returns three of the top five tacklers from a defense that allowed 19.0 points per game in 2011. The stars are the linebackers, senior Mike Taylor posted 150 tackles last year, and Chris Borland had 143. Borland also led the team with 16.5 tackle for loss.

They were again Wisconsin's top tacklers this past Saturday.

The defensive line didn't bring as much pressure against NIU as most observers had anticipated, and they were part of a unit that surrendered 2-of-3 fourth down conversions in the game.

It is expected that pass rush will be a major emphasis in practice this week for the Badgers.

The secondary struggled in the second half against Northern Iowa, but it's hard to tell if it was an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come. When Northern Iowa started a drive with 6:54 remaining in the third quarter, they had managed only 56 yards of offense on 21 plays and were being shut out.

From that point on, though, NIU ran 33 plays for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Oregon State is a 8 point underdog. The line opened at 11.

  • If it comes down to special teams in the end, Oregon State might have the edge. Placekicker Kyle French and punter Drew Meyer are replacing a pair of longtime starters lost to graduation.

  • Wisconsin fans were grumbling about new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's playcalling last week, thinking he should have been more aggressive with the pass with NIU crowding the line and trying to take away the running game. (Wisconsin gained 168 ground yards but needed 48 carries to do it, a 3.6 yard average.) But while some fans want to yank the starters and throw out the game plan at the first hint of trouble, it's hard to fault Canada. Good coaches more often than not will often stick to the game plan, make small adjustments and try to solve the issues through better execution. And Wisconsin didn't execute well enough in the second half, plain and simple.

  • Canada is also being given a short leash because he's following Paul Chryst. The new coach at Pitt was the guy who had Wisconsin's offense ranked sixth in the nation in scoring, 11th in rushing and 14th in total offense a year ago.

  • With OSU's opener against Nicholls State postponed and no game tape to exchange, Bielema decided to forego the usual courtesy of sending game tape to Oregon State. The Beavs can of course get their hands on a TV broadcast but that doesn't show the field the way game tape does. The Oregonian hinted that the Beavs may have gotten some game tape anyway, presumably from NIU, but it's unclear if that's actually the case.

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