September 12, 2008

Five things to watch: Fresno State

MADISON, Wis. - There is no doubt many around the Big 10 will be focusing their attention to the state of California this weekend. The anointed "collision in the coliseum" pits No. 5 Ohio State against No. 1 USC and has the potential to be great. However, the game not receiving much attention is No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 21 Fresno State.

This article focuses on the latter match up and the following is five things to watch during that contest:

1.) Which way will the offense go?

The Badgers have started the season off by showcasing their running and passing attacks in separate games. Against Akron, the running backs ran all over the Zips, amassing more than 400 yards on the ground. After passing only 10 times that game, quarterback Allan Evridge connected on 17 of 26 attempts for 308 yards.

Maybe week three will provide a steadier balance. I think it would be safe to say that a more balanced attack would open things up for both aspects of the offense. With Travis Beckum expected to play for the first time this season, look for him to haul in at least three balls. Do not be surprised if the Badgers were to start the game with a play-action pass before settling into their running unit as FSU may not be expecting that.

2.) No more slow starts

Against Marshall, UW was able to come back from an early 14 point deficit. Re-visiting the same start at Fresno State would open the flood gates for the Bulldog's that would surely be tough to come back from. A key component to starting fast is picking up third down conversions. In the first quarter against the Thundering Herd the Badgers were unable to notch a third down conversion in three tries. In the Valley, that will simply not get it done.

3.) Fresno State atmosphere

Since Pat Hill took over for the Bulldogs, they have won 10 of 11 home openers. Many have tabbed this contest as the biggest game ever in Bulldog Stadium as Wisconsin is the first team from the Big Ten to travel out west. The crowd will be ecstatic and the environment will be electric. The Badger's young corners Niles Brinkley and Mario Goins, as well as safety Jay Valai need to remain composed and not give up the big play. Early Bulldog scores will only fuel the fire and that makes it tough for any visiting opponent.

4.) Tom Brandstater, Ryan Mathews and Bear Pascoe

These three players will undoubtedly play a major role in Saturday night's contest. Brandstater is in his third season as starting signal caller, and Mathews is a very talented back that will test the Badger defensive line and linebackers. He features a physical running style and his low center of gravity makes it difficult to tackle. Arm tackles will not work on Mathews, he needs to be fully wrapped up to be brought down. Finally, Pascoe is arguably the WAC's top tight end. With Jonathan Casillas ready to make his first start since injuring his knee in fall camp, he will need to shake off any rust quickly.

5.) First road test

In 2007, all four of UW's losses came on the road, including the bowl loss against Tennessee. If there is any hope of contending in the Big 10 this season, the Badgers need to improve their play on the road. Playing Fresno State in Fresno will provide a great test for this cardinal and white team. Last season, Wisconsin never traveled as far as California for a road affair, so it will be interesting to see if there is any travel fatigue factor during the game. Making it tougher for UW is Fresno has had nearly two weeks to prepare after having their bye last weekend.

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