Reeling Wisconsin hosts dangerous Utah State
MADISON Wisconsin can’t afford to look past anybody right now, humbled by a loss that triggered a surprising shake-up in the coaching staff.
And Utah State is coming off a victory that shows it’s no pushover.
Reeling from a 10-7 loss at Oregon State and Bret Bielema’s abrupt decision to dismiss offensive line coach Mike Markuson just two games into the season, the Badgers (1-1) host the Aggies (2-0) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night.
Despite the shaky start to the season — Wisconsin barely beat FCS school Northern Iowa in its opener — the Badgers still have plenty to play for and believe they can get their season turned around quickly.
“No crisis at all and no panic, but there has to be a lot more urgency,” running back Montee Ball said.
Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, is off to a relatively slow start to the season. Ball finished with 120 yards and a touchdown against Northern Iowa, but was stuffed frequently and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Then Ball had only 61 yards rushing at Oregon State.
Bielema’s decision to replace Markuson with Bart Miller, a former graduate assistant, is a sign that the offensive line is taking a large portion of the blame for the early struggles.
“We want to run the ball,” left tackle Rick Wagner said. “We had way too many passes for the O-line, and we don’t like that. We want to run the ball on Saturday, and we’re looking to overcome that.”
Ball acknowledged that the holes haven’t been there like they were in the past, but also blamed himself for the team’s flat performance last week.
“I guess you could say that the holes weren’t as big,” Ball said. “I wouldn’t point the finger at them because I missed a few. I missed a few and would say that if I made the right read, who knows (if) the energy level would have been a lot higher in the game?”
Quarterback Danny O’Brien hopes he can play a critical role in a quick turnaround.
“Being a quarterback, guys are looking at you in the huddle and off the field,” O’Brien said. “You’ve got to be a leader and a voice that kind of keeps the guys going. Obviously, I didn’t play well, so I know all eyes are going to be on my for how I respond. I’ve been in this situation before and I know I can bounce back from it. I’ve just got to lead the guys.”
It won’t necessarily be easy on Saturday.
Utah State beat a Pac-12 foe in Utah last week, 27-20 in overtime. And they’ve come close to a few more big wins in recent years under coach Gary Andersen, including close losses to Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Auburn.
Through two games, Utah State is averaging 30.5 points and 474.5 yards of total offense per game. Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton is 44 of 57 for 520 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
“We are going to take some big shots and we are going to go out there and fight,” Aggies wide receiver Matt Austin said. “(With) Oregon State they did a lot of quick stuff so that is what we are looking for to begin the game. Getting the tight ends involved a little bit more and the slot receivers and work them a little bit more. It should be a good game.”
On defense, the Aggies are allowing just 11.5 points per game and 267 yards of total offense.
“We’re playing a great opponent, a team that just had a tremendous win,” Badgers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “They played Auburn extremely tough last year. They’re a very good football program who got a great win last week over their rival, who they hadn’t beaten for however many years. They (have) a very aggressive defense, a very skilled defense. Really fast. It would be a challenge for any offense.”
Andersen doesn’t expect the Badgers to change their offensive formula.
“I know they did not run the ball to their standards last week but that will be their emphasis without a doubt,” Andersen said. “They are going to want to be a big, strong, powerful football team that takes some shots down the field with play action and it’s worked very well for them.”
Ball expects the Badgers to make a breakthrough.
“I believe, right now, we’re really going to showcase to the nation what we’re capable of doing of doing on offense,” Ball said.