UTEP Miners vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Complete Game Preview
Everyone keeps waiting for the Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) to blow away their next opponent, who in this case is the University of Texas at El Paso Miners (1-2).
Not only have the Badgers failed to impress in the first three weeks of the season, but they have already dropped a game and marginally pulled off each of their two victories.
It's impossible to make any sense of what's going on in Madison, with the offensive line and quarterback situation in flux and Montee Ball failing to have a breakout game.
Will the struggles continue on Saturday against UTEP? Let's analyze the upcoming matchup.
Depth Chart for Wisconsin
QB—Joel Stave, Danny O'Brien, Curt Phillips
RB—Montee Ball, James White
FB—Derek Watt, Sherard Cadogan
WR—Jared Abbrederis, Reggie Love
WR—Jordan Frederick, Jeff Duckworth
WR—Kenzel Doe, AJ Jordan
TE—Jacob Pedersen, Sam Arneson
TE—Brian Wozniak, Brock DeCicco
LT—Rick Wagner, Tyler Marz
LG—Ryan Groy, Ray Ball/Dallas Lewallen
C—Travis Frederick, Dan Voltz
RG—Zac Matthias, Kyle Costigan/Dallas Lewallen
RT—Rob Havenstein, Robert Burge
DE—David Gilbert, Pat Muldoon
DT—Ethan Hemer, Bryce Gilbert
DT—Beau Allen, Warren Herring
DE—Brendan Kelly, Tyler Dippel
SLB—Ethan Armstrong, Conor O'Neill/Vince Biegel
MLB—Chris Borland, Marcus Trotter
WLB—Mike Taylor, Derek Landisch
CB—Devin Smith, Devin Gaulden
SS—Michael Trotter, Michael Caputo
FS—Dezmen Southward, Michael Caputo
CB—Marcus Cromartie, Darius Hillary
P—Drew Meyer, Stephen Salata
K/KO—Kyle French, Jack Russell
LS—James McGuire, Connor Udelhoven
H—Stephen Salata, Drew Meyer
PR—Kenzel Doe/Jared Abbrederis
KR—Kenzel Doe, James White
Depth Chart for UTEP
QB—Nick Lamaison, Carson Meger
RB—Nathan Jeffrey, Autrey Golden
WR—Jordan Leslie, Devin Patterson
WR—Michael Edwards, Ishmael Harrison
WR—Malcolm Trail, Felix Neboh
TE—Kevin Perry, Craig Wenrick
LT—Brander Craighead, James Martin
LG—Jerel Watkins, Wayne Frazier
C—Eloy Atkinson, Paulo Melendez
RG—Kyle Brown, Colin Brooks
RT—James Nelson, Mike Amdall
DE—Horace Miller, James Davidson
DT—Marcus Bagley, Ruben Munoz
DT—Germard Reed, Adam Ayala
DE—Greg Watkins, Roy Robertson
OLB—Josh Fely, DeAndre Little
MLB—Jamie Irving, AJ Ropati
OLB—Aubrey Alexius, Anthony Puente
CB—Darren Woodard, Adrian James
LS—DeShawn Grayson, Wesley Miller
RS—Richard Spencer, Derrick Morgan
CB—Drew Thomas, Traun Roberson
P—Ian Campbell, Steven Valadez
K—Steven Valadez, Dakota Warren
H—Ian Campbell, Carson Meger
PR—Michael Edwards, Adrian James
KR—Nathan Jeffrey, Michael Edwards
What Happened to the Badgers Last Week?
Kenzel Doe's punt return midway through the third quarter sparked a Badger comeback, and Wisconsin held off Utah State 16-14 after Aggies kicker Josh Thompson's 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 11 seconds remaining.
Montee Ball had to grind out every one of his 139 yards, as it took him 37 carries to reach his final total. The Badgers also switched quarterbacks at halftime, pulling Danny O'Brien in favor of freshman Joel Stave.
After firing the offensive line coach following the upset at Oregon State, the O-line still failed to create much of a push up front, although there were glimpses of improvement.
In the end, no matter how ugly it may have been, a win is a win.
What Happened to the Miners Last Week?
In the Battle of I-10, UTEP scored touchdowns on its first four possessions en route to a 41-28 victory over rival New Mexico State.
The score doesn't tell the whole story, as the Miners led 41-14 before the Aggies tacked on two garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter. It was an impressive offensive display for a team that gave Oklahoma and Ole Miss more than they bargained for in the first two weeks of play.
Nick Lamaison threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns and Jordan Leslie reeled in seven catches for 147 yards and a score.
Now, UTEP will see if it can give another big-time college football program a run for its money in Madison.
What It Means to Both Teams
What it means to Wisconsin:
It's about time to accept the Badgers for who they are—an underachieving team that was overrated heading into the 2012 college football season.
And yet, heading into Big Ten play at 3-1 wouldn't look all that bad compared to the rest of the conference. The only team without a loss in the Leaders division is Ohio State, and it's ineligible for postseason play.
Will another week under new offensive line coach Bart Miller make a noticeable difference? I have my doubts, although if Montee Ball can have a break out game while freshman Joel Stave avoids making mistakes, the Badgers could build some momentum heading into their clash with Nebraska.
What it means to UTEP:
The Miners challenged themselves in non-conference play, and to enter their Conference USA slate 2-2 would be better than expected.
The UTEP defense held Oklahoma and Ole Miss to under 30 points, so there is no reason why it couldn't pull off the same feat against Wisconsin. The Miners have also boasted a better offense than the Badgers thus far, ranking 108th in the FBS in scoring—Wisconsin stands at 115th.
Madison isn't an easy place to play, but the Miners might have just enough firepower to pull off the upset.
Key Player for Wisconsin
It's official. The Badgers are going to need to rely on their defense if they want to go anywhere this season, and it all starts with senior linebacker Mike Taylor.
While Chris Borland is also a huge force at middle linebacker, Taylor seems to be involved in almost every play. One thing to watch for on Saturday is if UTEP tries to take advantage of Taylor on the wheel route, as he has been beat in coverage on that play multiple times.
If Taylor can make his presence felt stopping the run while holding his own dropping back in coverage, the Badgers defense should be able to shut down an offense that is statistically almost as poor as its own.
Key Player for UTEP
UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison likes to sling it, and since his six-completion performance against Oklahoma, the senior has put it all together, going 42-of-65 for 513 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Whether that was a result of strength of opponent or making adjustments, Lamaison has done a good job protecting the football. He'll go out against a stout defense in Wisconsin, although the Badgers have failed to force a turnover all season.
Lamaison isn't a threat to run, but if he picks his spots wisely in the passing game, the Miners may find a way to move the ball effectively on Saturday.
Wisconsin Will Win If....
Wisconsin will win if Montee Ball rushes for over 120 yards.
The Badgers have only lost twice when Ball tops 120 yards on the ground—the Rose Bowl against TCU, and the Rose Bowl against Oregon.
Thankfully, the Badgers aren't playing in Pasadena Saturday afternoon. They are playing at Camp Randall Stadium against UTEP, and while no game is a sure thing with Wisconsin this season, the key to success is pounding the rock with Montee Ball.
The Miners have had all sorts of problems stopping the run, and even though the Badgers will need to establish the passing game a bit to free up Ball, he should be able to muster 120-plus against UTEP.
UTEP Will Win If....
UTEP will win if it doesn't allow any big plays.
Big plays refer to a touchdown on special teams, lengthy gains allowed on defense or costly turnovers. So far, out of Wisconsin's first three opponents, Oregon State—the only team to defeat the Badgers—was able to pull off this feat.
The Badgers' offense is stagnant to say the least, but Wisconsin has still managed to pull off one game-changing play in each of its two victories. If UTEP can just keep everything in front of it and take care of the football, it will put itself in a great position to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, UTEP 17
If betting were legal, I'd be taking the points in this one. The Badgers are favored to win by 17, but they will barely even reach 17 against UTEP. Still, thanks to its defense, Wisconsin will skate by with another heart-pumping win.
Montee Ball will get his, even if the offensive line scuffles again, and Joel Stave will play an mistake-free game at quarterback, because if he doesn't, the merry-go-round will start right back up.
Wisconsin doesn't lose at home to non-conference opponents, and although UTEP will put up a fight just like every other team the Badgers have faced this season, the Badgers will find a way to get their third win of the season.