From second-half domination to a sloppy 60 minutes to a grinding one-point win, Wisconsin has experienced all sorts of adversity that could prove beneficial in its pursuit for a conference championship. The one thing No.11 Wisconsin hasn't received is an opponent it can dominate, find flow against and rest up against.
That recipe sure looks like a healthy dose of Austin Peay, who will face its first BCS program in school history when it travels to Camp Randall to take on the Badgers this Saturday.
Replacing 25 starters from a team that went 4-7 last season, one of its 55 losing seasons in the past 73 years, the Governors (2-1) have been hit the hardest on the defensive side of the ball. With eight starters missing, Austin Peay is allowing an average of 219 rushing yards and 207 passing yards per game, a number that translates to opponents converting 49 percent of the time on third down.
"We got wore out at the end of this one," said fourth-year Governors coach Rick Christophel, who played quarterback and safety at the school from 1972 to ‘75. "I mean, 97 plays, that's unbelievable. We can't play a football game like that."
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the small state-funded college in Clarksville, Tennessee. Austin Peay dropped from scholarship to non-scholarship following the ‘96 season, only to reconsider in 2005 and resume playing in the Ohio Valley Conference two years later. Since joining the conference, the Governors own a record of 15-21.
But for a school with only two winning records in the last 25 years, the Governors have some pieces on offense to be successful in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Junior running back Ryan White rushed for 1,081 yards while senior back Terrence Holt was a first-team all-conference pick after rushing for a league-high 13 touchdowns. Through three games this year, White is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and Holt is adding 4.7 per touch.
The passing game has steadily grown under redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Ryan. After completing only 37.9 percent of his passes with a touchdown and 10 interception in nine games last year, Ryan has upped his completion percentage to 45.3 percent and raised his touchdown passes to three, including capping off a 62-yard scoring drive to give his team a come-from-behind victory over Tennessee State.
"Our quarterback has gotten better the last two games," Christophel said. "We're still working on the program. We're not even close to where we need to be. We've got to get to that upper-echelon level. We're not there yet."
Thanks to the NCAA, the distance between the upper and lower echelon has shrunk. After the NCAA slowly whittled the FBS scholarship numbers down from 95 to 85 between 1992 and '94 and the FCS level topped out at 63 scholarship, the level of ability has come closer, which allows the FCS school to surprise some people.
This season alone, six FCS programs have recorded upsets against BCS teams, including South Dakota's 41-38 victory at Minnesota on Sept. 11 and Jacksonville State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, winning at Ole Miss in two overtimes in week one.
"It's still 11 on 11 and it's playing football," said UW Coach Bret Bielema. "I know our guys can see on film that they play very, very hard. The game that they just won this past weekend was a four-quarter game that they won in the end, and it's fun to watch teams compete and do that."
After struggling through three games, this week will be vital for Wisconsin. Not only will the Badgers be without starting wide receivers David Gilreath (concussion) and Nick Toon (turf toe) for the second straight game, it was announced Tuesday that Wisconsin will be without sophomore linebacker Chris Borland for the remainder of the season.
The Badgers will also be focused on patching a return game that a speedy Arizona State squad rolled through them and having its high-powered offense find some rhythm. Combine the opponent's track record with John Clay surpassing 100 rushing yards for the ninth consecutive game - the nation's longest active streak - and senior quarterback Scott Tolzien and senior tight end Lance Kendricks surpassing their completion total in the first two games combined, the Governors' test will be their stiffest yet.
"We just have to go up and play hard," Christophel said. "A lot of these kids … a lot of our coaches haven't been to a venue like this. We just have to go there and let our hair down, play aggressive and hope something good happens because they are a heck of a football team."
Austin Peay (2-1, 1-0 OVC) vs. No.11/10 Wisconsin (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Date/Time - Saturday, September 25 at 11 a.m. CT
Stadium – Camp Randall Stadium (80,321/FieldTurf)
Television - Big Ten Network (Matt Devlin, Derek Rackley, Stacey Paetz)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas) and Satellite Sirus (ch. 91) and XM (ch. 197)
Series – First Meeting
UW has started 3-0 for the seventh-consecutive year. Dating back to last season, the badgers have won five straight games, which is tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the country.
Wisconsin is 9-1 in its last 10 games decided by eight points or less. Under Bielema, UW is 16-6 in such games.
Wisconsin ranks 34th in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 18 points per game. UW's defense has only been on the field for 40 of those points (13.3 ppg).
The Badgers are averaging 4.96 yards per carry. The last time they averaged at least five yards per carry was during the Big Ten title season of 1999, behind the running of Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
I am going to make this real simple. If Wisconsin's running game doesn't rack up at least 200 yards, if the offense doesn't consistency go on long scoring drives, if the secondary struggles against an average pass attack, this team is going to have some real issues heading into conference play. All these things are areas of concern and if UW can't figure it out against the worst team on its schedule (no offense in AP), the Badgers and fans in Badger Nation are going to have face the music and suffer through another year of failing to live up to high expectations.
Wisconsin 42, Austin Peay 14
Straight up: 3-0
Against the Spread: 2-1