Preview: Starting the Gamble

Opening its 122nd season of college football, the University of Wisconsin is in a position it hasn't been at in over a decade: in the realistic conversation for a Rose Bowl bid or better. To keep them in the convo, No.12 Wisconsin will look to run all over the Running Rebels.

MADISON – Nobody will ever accuse Bobby Hauck of being ignorant.

After a successful tenure coaching FCS Montana, going 80-17 in seven years, Hauck brings down his entire coaching staff to try and revitalize a UNLV program that has gone 16-43 the last five seasons, haven't finished over .500 in the last nine seasons and is as relevant as leftovers from a casino buffet.

The imprint has started with a better recruiting class, more competitiveness in practice and a better work ethic, all resulting to what he hopes is a winning attitude among the players and the surrounding community.

Still, Hauck also knows what his team is up against and knows how the Badgers are going to attack. Question is: can he stop it?

"Well, nobody stopped Wisconsin very much last year," Hauck said. "I don't think shutting Wisconsin down in terms of its run game …" After a lengthy pause: "Nobody stops them much … They are deserving of their national ranking and their prospects are bright."

There will be no secrets for No.12 Wisconsin when it travels to Las Vegas to take on the Running Rebels this Saturday night, the Badgers are going to utilize their season opener by showcasing their bread-and-butter run game.

Returning 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball, including Big Ten offensive Player of the Year John Clay, Wisconsin led the Big Ten and ranked 15th in the country in rushing offense last season, averaging 203.9 yards per game on the ground. When the Badgers rushed for over 150 yards, they were a perfect 10-0.

When Hauck was hired, he said top priority was to fix one of the worst rush defenses in the country. The Rebels finished 112th in rushing defense (220.58 ypg), which caused UNLV to allow 30 or more points seven times a year ago.

Now Hauck will see how his young defense will do when it comes not only to stopping Clay, but 250-pound sophomore Montee Ball and true freshman speedster James White.

"Nobody will accuse our offense of being cute," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "We have some concepts we carry through every game (but) we're not hiding anything about what we do. I love the creativity of what (Offensive Coordinator) Paul (Chryst) brings to the table and if he can find a player that can do some special things, (he'll) highlight that."

Combine Wisconsin's running game with its passing attack and there is little debating that the year's edition will be an offensive team. One of just six teams in the country to average at least 200 passing and rushing yards last season, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien will have the option of using senior tight end Lance Kendricks or one of five senior/junior wide receivers to keep the offense balanced.

"Offensively, our message is that nobody can beat us but ourselves," senior wide receiver Isaac Anderson said. "We've taken that to heart because we've proven at times during camp that nobody can play with us unless we beat ourselves. That is what has taken us off the field in the past. We've got a lot of seniors and guys with experience, which puts us on a lot better page at this point in time."

Even with the Badgers not entirely sure of the schemes, plays and tendencies they are going to see on Saturday night, Anderson doesn't see a problem when the playbook is opened up and Wisconsin can start to work.

"Right now, we have a set core of plays in our playbook that we could run against any defense, any coverage that we have mastered," Anderson said. "Preparing for them is a little different, but we're just going to get our line up and go with it."

Defensively, the Badgers have built an eight-man rotation on the defensive line, a unit that finished fifth in the country last season in rush defense, depth at linebacker with Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland, a secondary that has four cornerbacks that competed physically throughout camp and two anchors at the safety position in senior captain Jay Valai and junior Aaron Henry.

That group will either see senior quarterback Omar Clayton, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, or junior Mike Clausen, whose seven touchdowns were second best on the team.

"They're doing a good job," Hauck said of his quarterbacks. "I think they have picked up on things real well. They are both bright guys and understand the game of football. I think they understand how the offense ties in to the way the overall game (goes)."

Things aren't always easy in the desert for Wisconsin, which hasn't been to UNLV since week 2 of the 2007 season. UW was ranked No.5 in the country that year, but needed quarterback Tyler Donovan to scamper 29 yards to rally for a 20-13 victory. That season which had the same high expectations as this season ended with the Badgers finishing a disappointing 9-4.

That is old news, as Wisconsin is looking forward to flipping the page and making all the hard work the team has achieved since its victorious bowl game pay off.

"It's an exciting time of year, whether you are a fan or a player," Tolzien said. "This is what we've put in the time for. I think guys have put in the time. It's time for it to pay off."

No.12/12 Wisconsin vs. UNLV

Date/Time - Saturday, September 4 at 10:06 p.m. CT

Stadium – Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800/TurfTech)

Television - Versus (Joe Beninati, Kelly Stouffer and Lindsay Soto)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas) and Satellite Sirus (ch. 90) and XM (ch. 196)

Series – Wisconsin leads 6-2

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 20-13, on Sept. 8, 2007 in Las Vegas

Wisconsin Notes:

Wisconsin is 93-25-2 in season openers, including 10-9-1 away from home. Wisconsin has won 12 straight season openers. The last time the Badgers opened a season with a true road game was a 24-17 win at West Virginia in 2003.

Over the last six seasons with Bret Bielema on the coaching staff, Wisconsin has compiled a 57-20 record, which is the second-best mark in the Big Ten and the 13th-best in the country over that time.

Since 1995, Wisconsin is 24-3 in their last 27 night games, which includes three wins at UNLV and three night victories in 2009.

UNLV Notes:

UNLV opens its 43rd year of football and is looking to win five straight season-openers for only the second time in history (1973-77)

The Rebels are 22-20 all-time in season openers, including 17-6 when opening at home

Hauck, who was the winningest coach in Big Sky Conference history, looks to become the sixth head man in school history to win his opening game leading the Rebels

This marks the sixth time that UNLV opens a season vs. a ranked opponent, including the No. 25 Badgers in 2002

UNLV is 2-8 all-time vs. the Big 10 Conference, having only played UW and Northwestern

UW receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander was a two-time member of the UNLV coaching staff (1998 under Jeff Horton and 2000-02 under John Robinson)


Back-to-back years of going 11-2? Good thing I am going to start the season in Vegas, as I might have a chance sitting in the sports book Friday night. It's good to finally start a new season, and a season that is expected to be very good for Wisconsin and Badger Nation.

The spread is set at 19.5 points in favor of Wisconsin, a number that reflects on how many pieces Wisconsin has coming back and how low expectations are for the Running Rebels. This shouldn't be much of a contest on the field. Wisconsin's running game is too good, its offense is too experienced and its defense will have no problem stopping the lack of running game UNLV possesses.

Throw in the fact that UW opens with a night game and that it will be a rowdy atmosphere with all those UW fans making the Labor Day weekend trip, the Badgers should be in for a successful start. Still, that's a high point spread, especially considering Wisconsin hasn't covered the spread in its last three openers against average opponents. I am going to go out on a limb here. Power running game going against a school that was a leaking sieve against the run last year and is breaking in a new coaching staff … I think UW can win by four scores.

Wisconsin 38, UNLV 10

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 11-2 last season, 22-4 overall

Against the Spread: 9-4 last season, 17-9 overall

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