Wisconsin's Montee Ball ran for 63 yards and 3 touchdowns, and caught 2 passes for another 67 yards, and another score, in the Badgers' 51-17 win over UNLV. Oregon St. visits Wisconsin next weekend. (AP photo)
It's a holiday weekend (Labor Day is Monday), but it feels like Christmas (temperatures in the 80's, and higher elsewhere, not withstanding.)
Last night, there were a few college and high school football games to get the season started. It was like one of those office parties that happen leading up to Christmas. You get together, have something tasty to eat, and get that first present or two.
Tonight, there's a little more college football, and the opening night for most high school teams in this state. There are some great games on the schedule, and even if the team you attend / graduated from / work for / live down the street from isn't in one of those best games, its still great fun. Definitely like Christmas eve!
And tomorrow really feels like Christmas. You get up early, and Gameday is on. It's like that stocking, great little goodies will keep coming out of it for several hours.
Then comes the big present. The first game of the year! And it should be a win for the Beavers. And there are those other gifts, the other interesting games to check out. Like Christmas day, most of us will have something tasty to eat and drink tomorrow, whether its tailgating, at a sports bar, or in front of the tv. And then probably gather with family or friends afterwards, to talk about those games / gifts, and have more to eat.
So what did we learn from last night?
Badgers Big And Bad
Well for one, Wisconsin's offensive rebuild is ahead of schedule. The serious question was how well the integration of transfer Russell Wilson at quarterback, and the replacement of three starters on the offensive line, since their Rose Bowl trip last season, would go. Pretty well, as it turns out. The Badgers, Oregon St.'s opponent next weekend, ran the ball at will on UNLV in their 51-17 win in Madison.
Speaking of that Christmas feeling, recall what happens a week after. A Pac team (usually) plays a Big 10 team (never one of the little 2) that has a big o-line, and intends to run the ball right at them.
Wisconsin's offensive line goes 6-6, 320, 6-4, 330, 6-5, 315, 6-4, 325, and 6-7, 330. With a tandem of Montee Ball and James White running and catching the ball, Wilson's debut in a sweltering Camp Randall Stadium was easy.
The Rebels' defense was out-manned across the board, with every player the Badgers put on the field both bigger and faster than who they were matched up against.
It's worth noting that another smallish defense from TCU did all right against a similar Wisconsin offense, but if Oregon St.'s smallish defense is to come closer to the Horned Frogs' outcome than UNLV's, they will have to capitalize on their speed, and engage the Badgers, rather than letting Wisconsin carry the battle to them.
It would help too if the Oregon St. offense doesn't self destruct as UNLV's did. The Rebels moved the ball well at times against the Wisconsin defense, especially with the short to mid-range passing game. But multiple missed field goals and multiple unproductive trips into the red zone doomed any chance UNLV had to make the game competitive. The Badger defense wasn't that large a factor in some of those stops either.
As far as the experience of playing at Camp Randall, where the Badgers have the third highest winning percentage this century of all college teams, the crowd, band, etc., while very red, didn't seem as intimidating as one might have expected. That could be because they were too busy having a party, enjoying the blowout. If someone gives them some trouble, I expect they can quickly crank things up a couple of notches if needed.
Arizona St. Ahead Of Schedule?
A lot of pre-season predictions have Dennis Erickson, under the gun after Arizona St. has missed a bowl game for three years in a row, leading the Sun Devils into contention for the Pac-12 South. A lot of people are also taking a wait and see approach, recognizing the potential of the athletes ASU can roll out, but not sold on how well the pieces will fit together, based on recent past performances.
Admittedly, the quality of opposition that UC Davis provided is a factor, but Arizona St. looked good in their 48-14 win over the Aggies. QB Brock Osweiler was mostly sharp until, and even after, cramps fell him in the third quarter. He was decisive, and the ball came out quick. Aaron Pfugrad had a drop that derailed one scoring opportunity, but redeemed himself with a couple touchdown catches as the game went along.
The Sun Devils have a stated goal for this season of playing "faster" than anyone else in college football, referring to the time between plays. They aren't as fast at it as Oregon, one of the masters of this tactic under coach Chip Kelly, usually is yet, but they were noticeable in their efforts in this area.
The Sun Devil kick return teams looked very good. Jamal Miles taking the second half kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown that opened a 31-0 lead blew the game open, but there were several other returns that looked good as well.
The thing that stood out about Arizona St. was the increased aggressiveness of their defense. Early on, the Sun Devils had 9 and even 10 in the box. They also blitzed on third down a number of times. This resulted in a half dozen sacks, including 4 in the first quarter, 2 by Vontaze Burfict who roamed behind the line from side to side. This is a considerable departure for a defense that recorded 23 sacks all of last season, and blitzed fairly reservedly.
Whether the Sun Devils can afford to do all of this against a Pac-12 offense, or next week's opponent, Missouri, that is better suited to make them pay for the overload remains to be seen, but it seems reasonable to expect Arizona St. will play a different style than they have previously under Erickson.
Utah Has Work To Do?
If Arizona St. is possibly ahead of schedule, the Utes may be a bit behind. Utah opened a 24-0 lead just over 3 minutes into the second quarter against Montana St., but didn't do that much more, eventually beating the Bobcats 27-10. With a HUGE trip to USC coming up next week for the first ever Pac-12 Conference game, a sharper overall performance would have been more confidence inspiring than what Block-U referred to as a "Ho-hum" performance.
Both Arizona St. and Utah do have a little extra time before they run into ranked opponents next weekend.
Some Oregon St. Roster Adjustments
Before heading for his television to scout upcoming opponents, Oregon St. coach Mike Riley announced Thursday that it now looks like Dominic Glover will not play Saturday against Sacramento St., with his grade situation still in turmoil.
Now backup offensive lineman Michael Philipp also won't play. Philipp, who started as a freshman, has been hampered by knee problem during pre-season preparations, approached Riley about red-shirting this season, in order to get himself fully healthy.
Riley doesn't have to do anything decisive immediately, and can even suit Philipp up at home games, just in case of emergency, but with the plan of not actually using him, and that's the course of action to expect.
Riley also left open the door that TE Joe Halahuni could play at Wisconsin, but his return is still more likely after the bye week, against UCLA. Which is looking like when WR James Rodgers, who is also starting to pressure Riley to play, could also reappear.
DT Kevin Frahm's return could still come against Wisconsin.