Wisconsin 101: Imposing chore for Cougs

WHEN IT COMES TO scheduling high-profile intersectional football openers, WSU athletic director Jim Sterk is the high priest. Auburn, fourth-ranked, last year. No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday. Notre Dame in 2009. Cougar coach Bill Doba quipped a few months ago that if he'd known how good the 2007 Badgers were going to be when Sterk negotiated the deal he never would have given his blessing.

Indeed, Wisconsin returns 16 starters and 43 lettermen from the 12-win team of last season that surrendered fewer points than all but one team in the land.

They're a consensus pre-season Top 10 choice -- and hellbent on overtaking Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten spotlight.

And just to put a cherry on top of the mountain the Cougars must climb, consider that the Badgers have won 19 of their last 20 games at raucous Camp Randall Stadium.

ABC-TV or ESPN will be on hand for the proceedings, so you can bet that if the Cougs pull off the upset the national countdown to the Week 4 matchup between WSU and USC will be begin instantly.

 
Cougars vs Badgers
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)

TELEVISION:
ABC or ESPN national with Bob Griese and Paul Maguire doing the color.

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Wisconsin by 14

LAST MEETING:
1976 in Madison, WSU lost 36-26. Mike Levenseller led the Cougar cause with eight catches for 141 yards and two TDs.

THE SERIES:
Wisconsin leads 1-0

CF.C PREDICTION:
Badgers 27, Cougars 17

THE BADGERS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Tyler Donovan, QB: The senior Badger quarterback is about the only major question mark on an otherwise well rounded team. He filled in admirably for John Stocco against Iowa last year but will have to prove himself as the team's new leader. At 6-1 and 187 pounds he is small for a D-IA quarterback but has great mobility. He has 67 career passes, completing 42 for 620 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs.

P.J. Hill, RB: The UW genetics department's mission to clone Ron Dayne continues to get closer to perfection. Hill, who missed spring workouts with a shoulder injury, actually only weighs 227 but runs with great power and quickness. The sophomore is the reigning Big Ten rushing champ, piling up more than 1,500 yards as a rookie.

Travis Beckum, TE: Wisconsin has plenty of big play receivers, but Beckum is their possession receiver. Second-team All-America in 2006, Beckum is on virtually every applicable pre-season watch list this year. He led the team with 61 catches for 903 yards last season.

Overview
The Badgers have started incorporating a few more exotic formations, but in reality little changed in the head coaching transition from Barry Alvarez to protégé' Bret Bielema. Wisconsin will wear you down with their power rushing game and various disguised looks,6then kill you with the play-action pass. Though they lost the nation's top offensive lineman in Joe Thomas to the Cleveland Browns, they return the other four starters plus teh fullback. The receiving corps is full of speed that can beat you deep if you over-commit to the run.

Strategy
Donovan is about the only unknown on this offense. Make him beat you. P.J. Hill and the running game have the potential to wear down an opponent, so the Cougs should focus on stopping the run and make Donovan throw. If the Cougar front four can't handle the Badgers' offensie line, expect a steady diet of running plays until the game gets settled in, then the Badgers will test the Cougar's green secondary often. The Cougs must display some control over the line of scrimmage early they are unlikely to gain it later. The right side of Wisconsin's line looks particularly awesome.

THE BADGERS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Jack Ikegwuonu, CB: Ikegwuonu is a legitimate All-American. More action may go to his left side counterpart Allen Langford.

Kurt Ware, DE: Being asked to start on short notice after the team suspended their top speed rusher Jamal Cooper. At 285 pounds, he is a much better run stopper than pass rusher, which could be one of the Badgers's few vulnerabilities. He is also coming off knee surgery. Shane Carter, FS: Outside of the pass rushers, the only possible issue for the Badgers is the safety position, but Badger fans have high hopes for Shane Carter, brother of ex-NFL receiver Cris Carter.

Overview
The Badgers tend to stay conservative with a generic 4-3 package most of the time. When they have the opponent in third-and-long they'll mix things up with a nickel package and a variety of blitzes. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz spent several years at Arizona recently so both teams should be familiar with the other's system.

Strategy
It obviously goes without saying that Alex Brink has to be at the top of his game for the Cougs to have a chance. Brink will have to throw to move the ball and is up against a pair of great cornerbacks. In reality, both sides of the ball may end up depending on Alex for support. The Cougs are counting on Brink and the offense to build a lead early in the hope the Badgers abandon their running game before the defense tires out.

THE BADGERS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Badgers boast a pair of the finest kickers in the nation. Ken DeBauche averages 42 yards per punt and Taylor Mehlhaff connected on 75% of his field goal attempts last season, from as far as 52 yards.

FINAL THOUGHTS
This is the wrong team, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. The Cougars may make a bowl game this season, but outside of the road trip to USC, this is by far the most difficult game on the schedule. Any team in college football can be beat, but the Cougs should be satisfied if they come away from this looking competitive and injury free.


PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE: RUNNING BACK P.J. HILL.


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