Six more days... just half a dozen until the Wisconsin Football Badgers get their 2010 season underway. Enough about the high expectations, the injuries and the Heisman candidate. It's almost time to turn on the TV, relax in the easy chair, and get those nachos heated up for kick-off. The Badgers head to Sin City for the first match-up of the season against the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. Here is a list of things to expect in the first game of the season....
Wisconsin's fans are notorious across the country for traveling well. And who is going to turn up their nose at a trip to Las Vegas before a chilling fall sets in? With the Badgers carrying a load of high expectations, fans will be rabid to see them this season, and Sam Boyd is a great venue.
To put it bluntly, the success of the Badger's season is going to lie solely in the hands of the defense.
All of the questions are focused along the defensive line's middle and in the secondary. With the weight of "great expectations" lying on their collective back, expect the defense to rise up to the challenge against a less than threatening UNLV offense. Senior defensive end J.J. Watt will be looking to assert himself early and often, and the linebackers will pick up where they left off last season. Sophomore Chris Borland, winner of the conference Freshman of the Year award last season, will be found in the Rebel backfield early and often.
Much has been said about Junior running back, John Clay, and his campaign for accolades this season starts in the desert. Coming off ankle surgery in the off-season, Clay looks to be a little more elusive, and rather than running everybody over, he will try to get around as many defenders as possible. Clay is looking to win some hardware this season , and expect Coach Brett Bielema to leave him in as much as possible this season to give him a chance to compete for the Heisman.
While the Badgers are known for their power running game, their propensity for running the ball sets up another facet of their game, the play-action pass. The Badger's first play from scrimmage last season was a 70+ yard pass to Isaac Andersen off of a play action fake for a touchdown. Look for the Badgers to start this season off with something similar, and continue to use it for the entire game.
Some prognosticators have indicated that the Badgers may have trouble functioning in the oppressive Las Vegas heat. This will simply not be the case. The majority of the starters on this team have been out west for a game during their career, and are aware of how to prepare. Besides, the temperature plus humidity in Wisconsin this summer will have prepared the Badgers for anything they may run into.
Heading into last season, quarterback Scott Tolzien was the biggest question mark out of all the Badger's starters. Going into this season, he is the sure bet for the Badgers, who will look to Tolzien to continue his efficient ways, and lead them to a BCS bowl. Against UNLV, his job will be much easier, as the Rebels have a hard time generating any sort of pass defense. During the 2008 season they finished 113th in that category, and last season they improved... to 106th.
The Badgers finished finished sixth in the conference in kick-off return coverage and special teams was an acknowledged Achilles' Heel. This was never more evident than in a season-defining game against Ohio State, when the return coverage unit allowed Buckeye return man Ray Small to go the distance for a touchdown and put the game away in the second half. The unit should have improved some in the off-season, but UNLV return man Deante Purvis is a home run threat every time he touches the football.
Sure, you know about the Wisconsin power running game, but what about UNLV? The Rebels return four starters along the offensive line, and a deep, talented stable of running backs. Couple these with the new philosophy on offense brought over with new offensive coordinator Rob Phenicie, and expect to see the Badgers smash away at UNLV, while the Rebels smash right back.
Tight end is another position where the two teams may seem similar on offense. The Badgers return Lance Kendricks, who filled the second tight end position last season very capably. The Badgers throw to tight ends often when yardage is a must, third downs and inside the red zone. UNLV, with the aforementioned changing of the guard, will be looking to get their tight ends involved and open up the field for their new, pro-style offense.
Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema is back in the good graces of Wisconsin fans after being in an alleged "hot seat" following the 2008 campaign. If this team finishes the season with less than ten wins, he may be right back on it. New UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is looking to bring a new era of hard-nosed smashmouth football to Vegas, not unlike the style employed by the Badgers. Both teams will be looking to bloody each others noses from the first quarter, and whichever coaches team executes the best will come out on top....