Camp Randall Stadium is one of the toughest stadiums in the country for visitors to win in. The Badgers are 44-4 since 2004, and 33-3 under head coach Bret Bielema at home.
Wisconsin fans filled up on braats for breakfast at tailgaters all around Camp Randall Stadium, a monument to red and white that takes no back seat to Nebraska or Alabama, and the Badger faithful is figuring on continuing brunch with Beaver burgers.
Oregon St. (0-1), figured to be in tough against #8 Wisconsin (1-0), and that was before James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni's rehabs after surgery didn't move fast enough for them to get on the field. Since that became apparent, Brandon Hardin got hurt, and then the Beavers were stung by the Hornets from Sacramento St.
The aftermath of their opening day loss included a quarterback controversy, as Ryan Katz suddenly has Sean Manion stalking him, and then a pulled hamstring that resulted in Malcolm Agnew not even making the trip to Madison.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin, after rolling over UNLV in their opener, has managed to integrate new quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred from North Carolina St. masterfully. This onto a team that has a offensive line that consists of earth moving equipment, and a pair of backs in Montee Ball and James White who are both capable of 1,000 yard seasons at the same time.
The result is Wisconsin, who has won 29 consecutive non-conference games, being 21 1/2 point favorites, and Badger fans planning another party similar to the one that they had in and after their 51-17 win over UNLV on opening night. It's highly unlikely that the game will be as competitive as the team's first meeting 50 years ago, a 23-20 Wisconsin win.
I'm actually quite interested in seeing how the Beavers in general, and the players as individuals, handle this. None of the players or coaches will say it, of course, but at least most of them had to realize this game is one that Oregon St. probably couldn't win unless they got some help, in the form of turnovers or other mistakes by Wisconsin. And that was before the Sacramento St. game and its aftermath.
Of course, the same was true about the Hornets going into Reser Stadium.
Sacramento St. played hard, and also smart, and sure enough, Oregon St. committed a pair of turnovers, and missed a field goal.
It will probably take even more for the Beavers to be in the game against the Badgers, but the important thing isn't whether they can be in position to win this game. It's whether they progress before they get 2 weeks to prepare for the Pac-12 opener against UCLA. Or they come unraveled. Teams typically make a big improvement between weeks 1 and 2, and Oregon St. needs to now wait for the bye week to make improvements. The traditional slow starts that Riley teams struggle with are getting very tiresome, but its where the Beavers are again. What needs to be different this time is how long the slow start drags on before the pieces start coming together.
A key questions is whether they can still run effectively without Agnew. The offensive line opened some holes against Sacramento St., and they need to do it again. Who is at the tailback spot doesn't change whether they can block. If Terron Ward has a productive day, it will be a real positive going forward.
Another big issue for the Beavers is whether the inexperienced secondary has improved their spacing, and can avoid giving up the big play beyond or outside. A little pressure on the opponent's quarterback would help, but who is playing QB & RB for the Beavs has nothing to do with this problem. I would expect to see improvement in this area regardless of what happens in several other areas.
And the most important question revolves around the quarterback situation. Will Manion have another good outing? Will Katz respond to the challenge, or fade away?
Will either one find Jordan Bishop early? This will force Wisconsin to not focus as heavily on Marcus Wheaton, and then maybe the Beavers won't be looking to second unit receivers who drop balls when thrown to.
If a clear choice at QB doesn't emerge on the field as far as who is going to run this team the rest of the season, head coach Mike Riley will have to make a decision, and the team may or may not respond well to it. Riley has a history of letting circumstances make decisions like this for him. Will we see the future in this game, or will we spend 2 more weeks wondering?
As we saw last year, Oregon St. is highly dependent on their state of mind. How they handle adversity today could determine if there are several games in the weeks to come that look like last year's games against Cal and USC, or the ones against Washington St. and Stanford.
Going into the game, I have no clue which way it will go. I don't think Riley does either. Which makes it "must dissect viewing."
No matter how much bigger and talented a team is, the goal going into any game is to win. This is the mindset that the Beavers have to have if they have a chance this weekend.
The main key in my mind is finding a way to somehow stop quarterback Russell Wilson. To do this you not only need a great game plan, but great players to execute it. And from what we saw last Saturday, we don't exactly have those players.
No matter how much I try to think positive about this game, I just can't see our defense stopping Wilson, Montee Ball, and James White. I think that on one of the first plays of the game, Wilson burns one of our DB's deep for a touchdown. The same thing happens on the next drive and already we are in a two touchdown deficit.
In the second quarter, Mark Banker over-reacts and drops everyone back to stop the pass. This is where Ball and White take over, and before long we are heading into the locker rooms down 28-0. With the backups in for Wisconsin from that point on, the Beaver offense should be able to make up some ground, even if it doesn't result to touchdowns immediately.
To wrap it all up, I think this will be one of our typical trips to another time-zone. But as in every game, win or loss, there will be things to take from it. Hopefully we work on those during the bye week and come out against UCLA a different team.
Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Oregon St. 10
Ah, so in the grand tradition of flip-flopping fan emotions, my initial thoughts about the season, and what I expect from the upcoming game, have changed. I will admit that from going to the game last Saturday and all that entailed I have run through a series of various thoughts all week, some bad bad bad some not so bad.
Kind-of an aside here: One thing that is ironically and bitterly funny is that afterward, someone asked me about
how it was at the game. I got to thinking you know if that was like Wisconsin, or say BYU, we were playing at home,
or basically any conference game, even if we lost in that exact same way, it would have felt like a great game to be
at. That fourth quarter and OT was actually pretty exciting.
Alas though, it wasn't any of those teams, and we are stuck with a ton of questions going into another back East nationally televised game against a foe that is having a peak spike within its program's history.
So my thoughts lead to questions:
1. Without the nation's leading rusher, what are the Beavs going to show, and bring to this game?
2. What's up with the QB situation? I actually thought this position was pretty set, but Katz has sure looked anything but set in the position. Heck I personally don't think Katz has looked close to what his potential seemed to indicate since James went down and that incredible passing performance against UA game last year. Is that Ryan Katz still with us? Will Riley's QB maneuvering bring that old Ryan out (and I want to say this seems kind-of strange, Mike Riley playing each QB off each other; it slightly reminds me of some of the stuff he did with Matt Moore but in my opinion even that was still fairly minor in comparison to this Katz/Mannion situation)?
3. Pass defense? To be blunt we need to see some VERY good improvement here. I really got down on the secondary this week in my comments, but thinking about it more it wasn't just them, as the upfront group and linebackers did not get much pressure on the QB. This lack of pressure built on the greenness of the secondary and it was pretty much a field day. OSU is in a passing orientated conference, and we are not going to get by only being able to play straight up rush defense. But I do have to remember that, yes it was Sacramento State, and even with that poor showing, the Beavs did hold them to only 21 points in regulation, and that leads to question #4.
4. Offense in general? Will we see the offense get some on the field presence this week? I personally would have much rather seen a team that was too loose and making mistakes on taking chances than the more tight and tentative team we saw last week. Will the offense open it up a bit more? If it is 3rd down and 8, throw a pass-play for 15 yards, not three yards underneath.
Can this offense score points BOTH in quick strikes and with ball control? If I was Wisconsin I would just stack the box and blitz the hell out of the QB until OSU proved it can make you pay. Seems standard I know, but the Beavs' offense looked anything but a good standard last week.
All in all, from my more detached position of sitting at home and watching this thing on the TV early Saturday morning, I think that answering these questions in positive ways are what this game is going to be about, versus the W or L line.
That said I really hope the team doesn't see it this way. I know the injuries are testing the depth of a program not really known for across the roster depth, but this is also a program that has been successful in a top-notch conference and as such needs to see itself as a contender in these type of games.
So yes I'm avoiding the question of final score and all that. I believe as a program and who is on this team that OSU can compete with Wisconsin. But unfortunately a good number of the players who would be key to this competing are not going to be out there or seem to be struggling with their mental games.
I think that IF Katz can come around and be the Katz we saw against TCU last year, and he can get people like Wheaton really involved out in open spaces, if someone like a TE or one of the backup RBs can step it up out of nowhere and surprise us all, AND if the defense steps it up to the next level, we could well see a game more along the lines of that TCU game. Tall order indeed, but that is why one plays the game, just ask some Sacramento State players and coaches!
BTD will be back after the game with coverage and analysis.