September 4, 2010

Preview: Five things to watch

MADISON - The much-anticipated 2010 season is upon us. No longer will Saturday's leave a college football void in need of filling. For the next 13 weeks Badger fans will always have something to do.

And it starts tonight at UNLV.

A season ripe with expectations, a No. 12 ranking and Big Ten title aspirations to name a few, UW opens the season on the road for the first time since 2006. Coincidentally, the last time the Badgers opened the season on the road it went on to win a school record 12 games.

Needless to say, the wait is essentially over. Just a matter of hours from now the Badgers will be under the lights at Sam Boyd Stadium. Here a five things to watch.

1.) Expect trickeration:

At Montana, where Bobby Hauck led a perennial power at the Division 1-AA level, there was plenty of trickery in the playbook. Last season alone the Grizzlies ran three fake punts on separate occasions. While none were particularly successful, the fact of the matter is that Hauck isn't afraid to pull the old rabbit out of the hat in an attempt to move the chains.

Particularly in the first game of the season, Wisconsin will need to be especially sound in the fundamentals to prevent any damage from the Running Rebels. As 20-point underdogs UNLV will approach the game with nothing to lose. And with a new regime in place, a new season that brings with it new hope and a returning quarterback in Mike Clausen, anything is in play.

2.) Running around

Last season the Badgers ranked 17th nationally with 189.1 rushing yards per game. Conversely, UNLV ranked near the bottom nationally in run defense. So when you pit one of the best rushing attacks in the country against the worst, chances are the stronger of the units will have a better day.

Expect plenty of John Clay, Montee Ball and James White tonight. While the coaches hope to limit Clay (there's been mention of keeping him to 15-20 plays), tonight will likely present an opportunity for Ball and White to find a groove that will provide a snap shot of experience as we inch closer to Big Ten play.

3.) Not sure what to expect:

Offensively, UNLV has historically run the spread offense. However, when at Montana, Hauck ran more of a traditional pro-style offense. But with an inherited group of talent, Hauck may need to slowly transition his team to his style as he eventually brings in his kind of players through recruiting.

But that's still a ways off.

Tonight, the Badgers defense had better be prepared for a bit of everything. Hauck will likely spread them out and also try to take after the defensive line with the run game. And as was mentioned before, don't be surprised if there is any trickeration in the special teams phase of the game.

4.) Watt and company

Last year, part of the success J.J. Watt was able to enjoy came from the fact he had O'Brien Schofield on the other side of the line doing impressive things. Now, with Schofield gone, Watt will need either Louis Nzegwu or David Gilbert to step up and play at a high level.

Leading into the game Watt was not worried about the progression of his defensive line teammates. Instead, he was quite impressed. Tonight will provide a glimpse into the future of the defensive line. Look for an emerging presence at the rush end spot. With Watt on the other side taking the attention of the Rebel offensive line, there should be some openings for Nzegwu and Gilbert.

5.) Revamped secondary:

Under the tutelage of Chris Ash, it's become evident that the UW secondary is focused on becoming more fundamentally sound. As a master technician, Ash has his players ready to perform at a high level.

You can expect to see press coverage, some blitzing from the back end and general solid play. At least that's what Badger fans hope.

After a somewhat inconsistent and up and down season in 2009, the UW defense will only go as far as the secondary takes it. Experienced players like Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith need to become accountable and stick to their reads so the defense can get off to a flying start.

Young players like Marcus Cromartie need to take advantage of any opportunity they may see. The talent is there for Cromartie, he's just got to stay consistent and put it all together.

The best news is a lot of questions will be answered in a matter of a few short hours.

Prediction:

Offensively, Wisconsin is just going to be too much. The offensive line is mammoth and Scott Tolzien is way too smart. He won't make mistakes, the running game will function at a high level and the defense will play solid, but not great, en route to a 42-17 Wisconsin win.

Game Notes:

-UW opens its 122nd season of college football Saturday night. Overall, the Badgers are 93-25-3 in season openers, including a 10-9-1 mark away from Camp Randall Stadium.

-UW returns 43 letterwinners from a season ago (23 offense, 17 defense and three specialists). UW's 18 returning starters from 2009 is the top in the Big Ten. A total of 28 different Badgers have started a game.

-Eleven different Badgers find themselves on 17 different major individual awards watch lists.

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

Location
Las Vegas, Nev.

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)
Satellite - Sirius (ch. 90) and XM (ch. 196)

Series
Wisconsin leads 6-2 (3-1 in Las Vegas)

Rankings
Wisconsin: 12 in Coaches and 12 in A.P.
UNLV: NR in either poll

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




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