UW v. BGSU matchup analysis

A close look at the Badgers and Falcons leading up Saturday's season opener

Bowling Green offense versus Wisconsin defense

Bowling Green projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

QB Omar Jacobs (Jr. 6-4, 226) MLB Mark Zalewski (Jr. 6-2, 228)
TB P.J. Pope (Sr. 5-9, 212) WLB Dontez Sanders (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LT Rob Warren (Sr. 6-6, 292) RE Jamal Cooper (So. 6-4, 217)
LG Kory Lichtensteiger (So. 6-3, 305) RT Nick Hayden (So. 6-5, 302)
C Jonathan Culp (Sr. 6-6, 290) LT Jason Chapman (Fr. 6-4, 280)
RG Derrick Markray (Jr. 6-5, 350) LE Joe Monty (Jr. 6-2, 252)
RT Drew Nystrom (So. 6-5, 304) SS Johnny White (Jr. 6-2, 217)
TE Ruben Ruiz (Jr. 6-4, 247) FS Roderick Rogers (Jr. 6-2, 181)
WR Charles Sharon (Sr. 6-1, 181) CB Brett Bell (Sr. 6-0, 200)
WR Steve Sanders (Sr. 6-3, 197) NB Jack Ikegwuonu (Fr. 6-1, 200)
WR Marques Parks (Fr. 5-11, 194) CB Levonne Rowan (Sr. 6-1, 191)

Keep your eyes open and your mind alert if you want to follow this matchup. Bowling Green's variable spread offense will change its pacing in a flash, moving smoothly from huddling to a fastball no-huddle scheme. Reach down for a soda, and you might miss a snap. And while BGSU is spreading the field in search of mismatches, the Badgers' defense will be trying to check them every step of the way, running a plethora of players onto the field. With the number of new starters and contributors UW has on defense this season fans at Camp Randall Stadium may have to watch the public television tape delay in slow-motion to figure out who played when.

The Badgers had success against Purdue and Northwestern last season, when their scheme caused confusion and their players outplayed the Boilermakers and Wildcats. However, as good as Purdue's Kyle Orton and Northwestern's Brett Basanez were last season, Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs, a potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL Draft, is better. He makes great decisions, has the athletic ability to get out of trouble, and is big and strong-armed enough to make all the throws.

If anyone has the ability to out-scheme Bowling Green, though, it is UW defensive coordinator Bret Bielema. He probably has more athletes at his disposal than the Falcons are used to preparing for, too.

UW rolled an armload of defensive backs through the first and second team base and nickel defense during fall camp; expect them to try to match Bowling Green's varied offense with a complex, variable defense. The projected starters listed above show UW in a nickel defense, with cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu as the nickel back. But fellow redshirt freshman corner Allen Langford could also play that role. Or the Badgers could bring in Zach Hampton to play free safety and move Roderick Rogers to the nickel spot. Or Hampton, perhaps the best ball hawk among UW's defensive backs, could sub in for White. UW could also use reserve strong safety Joe Stellmacher, safety/corner Shane Carter or cornerback Ben Strickland. UW's secondary is relatively green, but it is an athletic group that does a good job of making plays on the ball. And they will be eager to challenge Jacobs.

Only a few years ago, seeing a UW linebacker matched up on a receiver or a back out of the backfield screamed mismatch. That is not the case this season. When the Badgers player their base defense, LaMarr Watkins will play the strongside linebacker, with Mark Zalewski in the middle and Dontez Sanders on the weakside. All three should have no probably tailing backs or tight ends, from a skill and athleticism standpoint, and can do a reasonable job against wide receivers. In fact, given the experience at linebacker, and how good Sanders, Watkins and Zalewski are at dropping into coverage, UW may get just as much out of its base as its nickel.

The Bowling Green projected starters shown above display a three-receiver, one-tight end set, but the Falcons will often go to a four-wide receiver formation and will also put two backs in the backfield. And BGSU plans to use tight end Ruben Ruiz in the slot and split wide as well to create matchup headaches for defenses.

Seniors Steve Sanders and Charles Sharon are very good receivers and Jacobs' likely favorite targets, along with running back P.J. Pope. The Falcons also have considerable talent in youth. Redshirt freshman receiver Corey Partridge is listed as a starter on BGSU's 12-position official depth chart and either he or Marques Parks will play in three receiver sets. Expect both on the field in quad formations. Senior Derrick Lett and junior Brandon Jones were considered potential starters before the season and are capable backups. Junior Kenneth Brantley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last month, but reportedly will try to play this season with a brace. He was a first-team player heading into the Falcons' camp. Sophomore Sean O'Drobinak will see time at tight end.

Wisconsin was not exactly flawless against spread style offenses last year. Purdue had success in the second half, after then-senior UW defensive end Erasmus James was injured. And Michigan State positively torched UW, turning the tables as the bewildered Badgers were run over by a seeming parade of Spartan tailbacks.

Michigan State's spread is not particularly similar to what Bowling Green runs, but the Falcons have the same capacity to hammer teams with the run or the pass. Pope will be one of the better running backs UW faces all season. And as important as Jacobs is, whenever Pope has run for 100 yards in his career at BG, the Falcons have won. Pope averaged more than six yards a carry last season. His reserve, B.J. Lane, is a good, quick runner who averaged about four-and-a-half yards per carry last year. And Jacobs should be a better runner this year after playing half of last season with two broken toes.

Bowling Green boasts a big, athletic offensive line, the left side of which is likely to play on Sundays down the road. UW's defensive line will be challenged from the opening snap, but expect this matchup to be pretty even. UW has a lot of good athletes up front. Nick Hayden and Joe Monty are good physical anchors and the Falcons will have a tough time with the speed of ends Jamal Cooper and reserve Matt Shaughnessy. Watch for UW to roll its reserves liberally on the line.

The effectiveness of BG's offense and UW's defense likely cannot be judged on the number of points scored Saturday. Whether UW's offense can control the clock, or BG gets its no-huddle game revved up, will have a huge impact on the number of possessions each team has. BG could, in theory, be efficient on offense but still be held in the 20s if UW can slow the pace down. 

Wisconsin offense versus Bowling Green defense

Bowling Green projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

MLB Teddy Piepkow (Sr. 6-0, 229) QB John Stocco (Jr. 6-2, 197)
WLB Jamien Johnson (Sr. 6-1, 225) TB Brian Calhoun (Jr. 5-10, 194)
SLB Terrel White (Jr. 5-10, 224) FB Matt Bernstein (Sr. 6-1, 260)
DE Brad Williams (Jr. 6-3, 256) LT Joe Thomas (Jr. 6-8, 303)
DT Monte Cooley (Sr. 6-2, 271) LG Matt Lawrence (Sr. 6-5, 295)
NG Mike Thaler (Sr. 6-1, 289) C Donovan Raiola (Sr. 6-3, 294)
DE Devon Parks (Jr. 6-3, 252) RG Jason Palermo (Sr. 6-3, 307)
SS Deaundre Perry (So. 6-1, 214) RT Kraig Urbik (Fr. 6-6, 317)
FS Terrill Mayberry (Sr. 5-11, 171) TE Owen Daniels (Sr. 6-3, 247)
CB Jelani Jordan (Sr. 5-10, 176) WR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
CB Antonio Smith (Fr. 5-10, 175) WR Jonathan Orr (Sr. 6-3, 190)

Bowling Green was a perfect 8-0 last year when holding opponents to under 100 yards rushing. Do not expect the Falcons to contain Wisconsin's running game to that degree, but do not look for the Badgers to run all over them either.

Bowling Green's defense struggled significantly in five games last season, giving up an average of 498.7 yards and 41 points in losses at Oklahoma, Northern Illinois and Toledo, and yielding an average of 437.5 and 35 in wins over Marshall and Memphis. But on the season, the Falcons gave up 391.9 yards per game (No. 69 nationally) and 23.5 points per contest (No. 43), respectable numbers. And though they allowed more yards through the air than all but a baker's dozen Division I-A teams, BG was No. 1 in the MAC in pass efficiency defense.

Wisconsin, though, should have some significant matchup advantages. Bowling Green is not particularly deep defensively and UW should be able to create mismatches with tailback Brian Calhoun and tight end Owen Daniels in the passing game. On paper, UW's receiving corps should have an edger, particularly in multiple receiver sets when players like Brandon White, Marcus Randle El or Jarvis Minton join the fray. Bowling Green, though, has a pair of returning starters in the secondary in corner Jelani Jordan and free safety Terrill Mayberry, who is a converted cornerback. And the Falcons are high on true freshman corner Antonio Smith.

Bowling Green introduces new defensive coordinator John Lovett Saturday. Lovett was the defensive coordinator at Clemson the past three years and held that position at Auburn from 1999-2001. Expect BGSU to blitz a fair amount. The Badgers have three new starters in the offensive line and it will be interesting to see how quickly they can adjust to the pass rush schemes the Falcons throw at them.

Wisconsin needs its offensive line to flex its muscles in the running game to try to control tempo and keep the chains moving. That will not be an easy task, but the Badgers should have success running the ball. Bowling Green brings a veteran defensive line to Camp Randall and their eight games holding opponents under 100 yards rushing shows a commitment to stopping the run.

Linebacker Teddy Piepkow is a good playmaker who UW will have to be aware of in the running and passing game. But Bowling Green's linebackers will be challenged often in pass coverage. They are not a particularly big group, and UW tight ends Daniels and Jason Pociask will have a physical advantage if they can draw them in coverage.

And UW does not need to rely wholeheartedly on the running game to the control the clock. Tailbacks Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley each have the ability to turn dump-offs into big plays, particularly Calhoun, who may be UW's best receiver.

Quarterback John Stocco begins his second year as the Badgers' starter Saturday and looked much improved during UW's fall camp. He is not going to dominate but he should put pressure on Bowling Green's defense.

Wisconsin versus Bowling Green special teams

Bowling Green projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

PK/KO Joe Timchenko (Sr. 6-4, 219) PK/KO Taylor Mehlhaff (So. 5-11, 179)
P/H Nate Fry (Sr. 5-10, 210) P/H Ken DeBauche (So. 6-2, 219)
LS Kyle Cutler (So. 6-1, 225) LS Steve Johnson (So. 6-3, 247)
PR Charles Sharon (Sr. 6-1, 181) PR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
KR B.J. Lane (Sr. 5-10, 201) KR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)

Both teams are breaking in new kickers but have reason to be optimistic. The Badgers' Taylor Mehlhaff showed a great deal of improvement during camp this year and has great leg strength. BG's Joe Timchenko made his one field goal attempt last year, a 40 yarder, and is a veteran of sorts, having played two years of junior college ball.

Brandon Williams is closing in a record for career kick return yardage, but he has not been spectacular in the role the past three seasons. The culprit is not so much Williams, but sub-par blocking on the kick return unit. Bowling Green only allowed 19.3 yards per kick return last year, so this might not be UW's breakout game in that regard.

Williams, though, might find some success in his new role as punt returner; BGSU's net punting was in the bottom quarter of the nation last season.

Charles Sharon is a very capable punt returner, but UW's Ken DeBauche is a good punter with a knack for forcing fair catches or placing punts inside the 20.

UW's kick coverage unit had better be on its game or Lane will break free.

Final thoughts

On paper, this is a very even matchup. Both teams' offenses are likely to have advantages, though not nearly as pronounced as some may think. The score, though, could still push upward because in the battle for tempo, expect a quicker pace to prevail. The special teams look pretty even.

Wisconsin's offense will have success running and passing and may be more balanced than some expect. The Badgers' offense, however, will not be able to quite take control of the game against what will prove to be a serviceable defense.

UW's defense is going to be fired up and will make its share of big plays. Omar Jacobs only threw four interceptions last year and was rarely sacked, but expect him to be under more duress than he is accustomed to feeling. It would not be a shock if the Badgers manage three sacks and a pair of turnovers, a feat, incidentally, that no Falcon opponent achieved  last year.

In the end, though, Jacobs and his band of skill players will be a little too good for the Badgers to handle. Expect him to make a few more big plays, just enough to win. 

BadgerNation.com projection: Bowling Green 31, Wisconsin 27

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