Preview: Badgers Take Balance into Valley

After running for over 400 yards one game and passing for over 300 yards the next, No.10 Wisconsin showed that it isn't a one-trick offense, something that could prove valuable when the Badgers travel to Fresno State Saturday.

MADISON - Wisconsin Bret Bielema is no dummy when it comes to selling the Badger program to pundits, recruits and the like. Among the many things the third-year coach admits to highlighting is the Badgers' stellar home record, where UW is a perfect 16-0 during his regime.

On the same accord, it's unlikely Bielema utters anything involving the Badgers' 2007 road record (2-4).

Ranked in the top 10 for the first time since last October 6, the Badgers will have a chance to put last season's road woes behind them and give their head coach another reason to brag when No.10 Wisconsin travels to Fresno to take on No.21 Fresno State in the Bulldogs' home opener.

One of the big emphases for Wisconsin (2-0) in the off season was correcting its mistakes away from the friendly confines of Camp Randall (where Wisconsin has won 27 of its last 28). A year ago, Wisconsin was ranked fifth in the country when its slippery slope began, losing three-straight road games, ruining its thoughts of a Rose Bowl and forcing to settle for the Outback Bowl.

"The leadership broke down and the guys need to understand that we have to make (the road) as comfortable and as much like the same feeling of Camp Randall as we can," senior fullback Chris Pressley said. "We're going there (to Fresno) and sleeping in a bed, eating the same food, doing things at the same time and playing the same game. That's a big emphasis on the little things this time around."

Like a season ago, Wisconsin has demonstrated that its offense can either beat you on the ground of threw the air.

Leading the Big Ten in rushing yards, P.J. Hill already has one 200-yard game under his belt and has scored four rushing touchdowns in two games. What has made the Wisconsin's running game even more effective is that Hill isn't the lone talent on the Badger bench. Freshman John Clay has rushed for 125 yards and two scores and sophomore Zach Brown is close behind, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

With an offensive line that averages 6-6" and 319 pounds, the Wisconsin running attack is a formidable challenge.

"Zach and P.J. wear out the defenders and when I came in, I just put on more pain," Clay said. "It's a win-win situation. They wear them down to where they are sluggish and I finish them off."

But after throwing the ball only 10 times in the season opener, Wisconsin and quarterback Allan Evridge opened up the playbook, as the fifth-year senior eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark (the eighth Badger in team history to do so), completing 17-of-26 passes in the process in a win over Marshall.

"Not too bad for a second-game quarterback," Bielema joked. "We knew he could throw the football and the big thing going forward is now we have a little bit of both (running and passing) on film. I am sure Fresno State was watching the film and realized that we have some guys out there that can catch the football."

Fresno State head coach Pat Hill has taken noticed of the duel-Badger attack but isn't fooled on what his team needs to do in order to beat Wisconsin.

"They got a lot of confidence in their passing game against Marshall but they are still going to lead with the run," Hill said. "There are a lot of conventional offenses out there that are playing with success and they are a conventional offense that is able to spread the field and play smash-mouth football. If you're going to beat Wisconsin, you've got to stop the run game."

Wisconsin has won 26 of its last 27 regular season non-conference games, including seven in a row on the road, but will need another solid, balanced attack if UW hopes to beat Fresno State. The Bulldogs (1-0) finished 9-4 last season, won the Humanitarian Bowl over Georgia Tech, and had a week off to enjoy a 24-7 road victory over Rutgers.

Offensively, sophomore back Ryan Mathews ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns in that game, while the defense shut out Rutgers for three quarters and DB Marvin Haynes grabbed two interceptions. Just like Wisconsin, Fresno State is tough at home, going 51-12 there since Hill was hired in 1997.

"It's a great opportunity for us and I think that's one of the advantages playing the schedule we do," Hill said. "You take a big chance playing these kinds of teams but when you get it and do it right, it gets you going a lot faster. We've put ourselves in position to move forward playing a big game against Wisconsin."

With Fresno State hyping up this game for the past six months, promoting it as the biggest game ever in the Valley, the Badgers aren't completing buying into the hype, especially since Wisconsin has been to rowdy environments before.

"Compared to other places (in the Big Ten), this stadium has half as many fans as we do," Pressley said. "We have to go in there and understand the atmosphere, play our ball and don't make it anything bigger than it is. It's a game where we have to go execute, regardless of the outside environment. It's about the team on the field and how well we practice this week."

No.10/10 Wisconsin (2-0) vs. No.21/21 Fresno State (1-0)

Date/Time - Saturday, September 13 at 9:30 p.m. CT

Arena – Bulldog Stadium (41,031)

Television - ESPN2 (Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)

Series – Series tied 1-1 (both games were at Camp Randall)

Last Meeting – UW defeated the Bulldogs, 23-21. In his first career start, Jim Leonhard recorded three interceptions and Mike Allen's 34-yard FG with 2:04 left in the game provided the winning margin.

Notes:

UW running backs coach John Settle held the same position at Fresno State from 1998-2005.

Wisconsin is 9-3 all-time against teams currently in the WAC.

UW has won 20 of its last 21 night games, including the last 10 in a row. The Badgers are 5-0 at night since Bret Bielema has been on the coaching staff. This Saturday's game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. local time.

The Badgers have not lost a non-conference game away from Camp Randall since 2001. Not including post-season play, UW has won seven consecutive games vs. non-Big Ten teams on the road or at neutral sites. The last non-conference loss for Wisconsin away from Camp Randall was at Oregon, 31-28, on Sept. 1, 2001.

Wisconsin is the only school in the country to have rushed for at least 400 yards (404 vs. Akron) and passed for at least 300 yards (329 vs. Marshall) in a game this season. The Badgers have accomplished that in just one other season in school history, 1982.

Prediction:

Ever since fall camp started, many had expected that this game would equal Wisconsin's first loss of the season. With the way the Wisconsin's offense is rolling, however, UW is turning those doubters into believers. Granted, the first two opponents on the schedule haven't been defensive powerhouses but Rutgers doesn't fall into that category anymore. I highly doubt Fresno State has seen a running attack like the one UW is bringing into the valley, which play highly into Wisconsin's advantage.

The big key is the Badgers need to take their opening possession, lay the foundation of a solid run game and continue to build upon that foundation until the final whistle blows, as another first-half flat line could prove costly this time around. After a solid game against Marshall, Wisconsin (a 1.5-point favorite) definitely has the momentum heading into this game, especially since Fresno had last week off.

Even so, Fresno State has a third-year starting quarterback in Tom Brandstater and sophomore Ryan Matthews, who rushed for 163 yards and three scores in the opener. State is at home in a tough place to play with a coach that is going to be hyping this game until kickoff.

It's going to be fun to watch but I don't think the Dogs can stop the potent Badger offense, something the Dogs don't see in the WAC, and Wisconsin will go into its bye week with its perfect record still intact.

Wisconsin 31, Fresno State 24

Worgull's Predictions This Season

Straight up: 2-0

Vs. the Spread: 2-0


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