The Long Winding Road

After going 2-4 on the road last season, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has preached to his team the importance of winning outside of Madison, which starts Saturday at Fresno State.

MADISON - Opening up the season with two wins against two relatively easy opponents has given Wisconsin a boost of confidence and a ranking of tenth-best in the nation. But in order to test one's mettle, one must face a dubious task to define themselves.

Not only is Wisconsin going to try and break its string of road woes on Saturday, they are doing it against one of the toughest mid-major teams in the country.

Heading to No.21 Fresno State on Saturday night, the Badgers are one of just five teams that are schedule to play a non-conference road game against a ranked opponent. Not the most ideal situation for the Badgers to try and turn things around, as Wisconsin struggled to a 2-4 record last season (with its two wins by a combined 14 points).

"What we were able to sit back and analyze during the off season," said head coach Bret Bielema during his Monday news conference. "We failed to do what we do. We didn't go out and play normal Wisconsin football."

Each road game brought a different, an ugly characteristic, which caused Wisconsin a great deal of headaches.

At Illinois, Wisconsin defense was guilty of giving up too many big plays and the inability to stop the spread while the offense suffered through injuries and miscues.

At Penn State, turnovers were the theme, starting with P.J. Hill's fumble inside the UW 20 in the opening minutes led to a Nittany Lion touchdown before anyone could blink and ending with a catch turned interception that sealed the Badgers' fate.

Wisconsin started off fast at No.1 Ohio State but couldn't sustain the momentum in the second half and Wisconsin failed to execute in most phases offensively in the Outback Bowl.

Since the start of the off season, Bielema has made it a special point to win on the road by pulling a Gene Hackman-Hoosiers routine by comparing the similarities between playing on the home field and the road field.

"The game we're going to play on Saturday is going to be played on a 100-yard field, has got the same dimensions, the same number of players, same number of officials and for us to be able to have success, we have to do what we do on that field better than anybody else," Bielema said.

That challenge will be tough for Wisconsin, as Fresno State and head coach Pat Hill have created a consuming environment that most opponents struggle to adapt to. In 11 previous seasons under Pat Hill, the Bulldogs are 10-1 in home openers and 24-3 overall in openers at Bulldog Stadium. If that hasn't gotten the fan base riled up, Wisconsin is the highest-ranked team, and first Big Ten team, ever to come to make the trip to Fresno.

Bielema is taking this weekend as a chance for the Badgers to find their true identity and get a big boost heading into a bye week and then the beginning of a tough conference schedule, especially with a team that has 16 players getting their first reps in Camp Randall over the past two weeks.

"I've been around teams with championship labels (and) they almost take road games as a way to test themselves," he said. "It's you against the world. We're going into the Valley, which everyone talks about. They've built that place that has been intimidating to others but as I have pointed out to the guys, it's not like they have never lost a game there."

But if the Badgers are going to come home with a victory, Wisconsin is going to need to figure out how to come out of the gates firing. The Badgers struggled in the first quarter during week one while the second quarter was the bugaboo against Marshall. After a stellar running attack in week one and a stout passing performance by Allan Evridge in week two, the Badgers have both systems running as full power and will need to flip the on switch right at opening kickoff.

"Anytime when you are on the road, the momentum that starts off in favor of the home team can be an overwhelming effect," Bielema said. "We need to start off fast and execute on whatever that first special teams phase is.

"We are a score-first offense that hopefully can win football games," he added. "Whatever that recipe is, we'll use. We go into a guy trying to win and however it happens is the way it comes out."


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