Preview: The Best Kind of Start

No.11 Wisconsin was far from perfect in week one, suffering from turnovers, poor reads and pre-snap penalties. Heading into week two against San Jose State, the Badgers are eager to show that the adversity has made a strong team even stronger.

MADISON - As he sat with his back against the brick wall outside the visiting locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium, senior safety Jay Valai philosophized on what the turnovers and the lack of response in the first half against the Running Rebels would do for his football team. In a word: plenty.

"Better game one than down the road," Valai said. "We can learn from adversity like that and respond well off that."

Each group had something to learn from. The offense, primarily senior quarterback Scott Tolzien and junior wide receiver Nick Toon, learned the value of ball security and not shooting the offense in the foot. The defense learned that it can't take a play off, something Valai took personal blame on for not being able to help on the touchdown pass after the Toon fumble.

Throw in the fact that the kickoff temperature was the second hottest in UW history, the Badgers had plenty of things to look at and learn about themselves.

"It wasn't easy to play in that," junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. "It was 106 degrees during the day here … but a lot of young guys got a chance to play. You can't be too upset with the win."

No.11 Wisconsin will get to showcase what it learned in Saturday's home opener against San Jose State, a program that Coach Mike MacIntyre has been trying to slowly turn around since he took the job in December.

MacIntyre, who was the defensive coordinator at Duke in 2008 and '09 under David Cutcliffe, took the job because he can see parts of the foundation being built, like the 2006 New Mexico Bowl win that capped off the school's best record since 1990.

Learning from Cutcliffe and his four years with the Dallas Cowboys, MacIntyre is building a team that is based off well-conditioned, competitive athletes from in-state California. That was easier said than done in the opener, as the Spartans were pummeled by No.1 Alabama 48-3.

"I've been coaching college football for a long time and that's the best athletic football team I have ever stepped on the field against," said MacIntyre said of Alabama. "We got better as a football team."

The Spartans need to get better after the problems of 2009 resurfaced in the opener. Out of the 120 FBS teams, San Jose State ranked 109th in total defense and scoring defense and 119th in rush defense, which made it no surprise Alabama racked up 591 yards of total offense.

Offensively was just as big of a disaster. The Spartans ranked 115th in total offense, 117th in rushing offense and 118th in scoring offense. The Spartans scored on their first possession, but wound up 1-for-13 on third-down conversions, allowed 6.3 yards per rush and gained just 175 yards of total offense.

"If we could have gotten a couple more first downs than we should've gotten, we would have a little bit better game than it turned out to be for us," MacIntyre said. "We just keep trying to push them to get better as a team every day. We try to look at the positive things and the negative things from the game, take coaching and try to improve on that. That's what I want to do with this football team – improve every week and all aspects of our football team."

The Spartans will have their chance to improve their rush defense when it takes a crack at the three-headed Wisconsin running machine. Against UNLV, junior John Clay, sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White combined for 261 rushing yards, averaged 6.2 yards per carry and four touchdowns.

"They are really good and say the least, some big running backs and a big offensive line," MacIntrye said of Wisconsin. "We're going to face another excellent football team."

What the Spartans, along with other Badgers fans, don't know is how good UW's secondary is. A group that had its fair shares of ups and downs last season, the Rebels completed only 10-of-26 passes for 105 yards last Saturday, but completed two touchdown passes.

The Spartans are hoping senior quarterback Jordan La Secla (1,926 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs in 09) will take advantage and become more reliable. In the opener, however, Le Secla struggled to take advantage of the Crimson Tide defense, completing just 7-of-14 passes for 85 yards and an interception.

Needless to say, the UW cornerbacks are starting to gain confidence, which makes UW that much tougher to play against.

"From what we've seen on film, they have a good group of receivers, some fast guys and some shifty guys," senior cornerback Niles Brinkley said of the Spartans. "With them having a good group, it might be a tougher challenger (but) we are getting more depth at the position. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and I feel like guys are stepping up and getting confidence.

"I love the direction we're going. We're coming off a win, we're 1-0, overcame a little adversity with more to come, but I like how the seniors have become leaders. Everybody is pushing for more and more and not to settle, because we want to go all the way."

San Jose State (0-1, 0-0 WAC) vs. No.11/11 Wisconsin (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, September 11 at 11 a.m. CT

Stadium – Camp Randall Stadium (80,321/FieldTurf)

Television - ESPN (Dave Pasch, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas) and Satellite Sirus (ch. 121) and XM (ch. 141)

Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 56-10, on Sept. 13, 1997 in San Jose

Wisconsin Notes:

The Badgers have won 14 consecutive home openers, dating back to 1996.

UNLV had just 106 yards of total offense and six first downs through the first three quarters, including just 12 total yards and two first downs in the first half. Wisconsin ran 43 offensive plays in the first half, compared to just 15 for UNLV. Eight of the Rebels' 15 first-half plays went for zero or negative yards.

As a sophomore, running back Ron Dayne ran for 254 yards on just 20 carries, scoring three times in UW's only meetings against San Jose State. Included in those TDs was an 80-yard run on the Badgers' first play from scrimmage. Dayne's 12.7 yards per carry are tied for fifth in school history (single-game) and his total of 254 yards is the ninth-best single-game total in UW annals.

San Jose State Notes:

For the first time since 1999, San Jose State is playing consecutive games in the Central Time Zone. In 1999, the Spartans played Western Athletic Conference contests at TCU and Rice on mid-October Saturdays.

By the end of the Wisconsin trip, San Jose State will accumulate 7,460 air miles of travel for two games. This season, the Spartans will log 16,712 air miles in six road games. San Jose State will bus to Reno, Nevada for the October 9 Nevada game - a distance of approximately 450 miles round trip.

Nine first-time and five redshirt freshmen were among the 56 San Jose State players to play against Alabama. Vince Buhagiar became the first true freshman to start a game at linebacker for San Jose State since the 2004 season.

San Jose State is playing more ranked non-conference opponents the first two weeks of the regular season than the Badgers have in the past eight years (one). SJSU will also travel to Utah in two weeks.

Prediction

Sitting in the warm Vegas desert watching Wisconsin, those 60 minutes told me something about the kind of character on the Wisconsin roster. A group chalked full of senior leaders and veteran players responded to the first slap in the face of the season by scoring a defensive touchdown and rattling off 24 more points. If there were any doubts about the resiliency of this team, the second half answered those questions.

San Jose State has a ton of problems on both sides of the ball. They had 10 players switch positions because of a shortcoming of scholarships and they are a team that ranked near the bottom of every major category in FBS football last season. The Spartans were incredibly overmatched in Tuscaloosa and they will be again in Madison.

Now the point spread is an incredible 38 points. My own personal rule is never taking the over on a team that is over a five touchdown favorite. They rarely work out (i.e. Florida over Miami and Oklahoma over Utah State). Once Wisconsin gets a lead on this team, they are going to run the ball and milk the clock. That makes it hard to get up to a 39-point advantage, which is why I think Wisconsin will win by 35.

Wisconsin 45, San Jose State 10

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 1-0

Against the Spread: 1-0


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