Wisconsin Badgers vs. UNLV Running Rebels: What to Watch For

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2010

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: J.J. Watt #99 of the Wisconsin Badgers gets ready on the line against the Michigan State Spartans on September 26, 2009 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers open up their 2010 campaign tomorrow night under the lights of Las Vegas, Nev., against the UNLV Running Rebels.

We've had plenty of time to hype up the team, analyze every game, choose our breakout players, and determine our predictions.

All that's left to do is play.

Here are a few things to watch for Saturday night: 


"Big John" & Friends

As it is in every game, the key to a Wisconsin victory will be establishing the running game.

Who takes the bulk of the carries is typically no question, but starter John Clay will be relying on Montee Ball and possibly even freshman James White to contribute.

Clay is still in the process of recovering from his two offseason ankle surgeries, and head coach Bret Bielema has emphasized that until Clay fully returns to "game shape," the backups will contribute.

In 2009, UNLV was dead last in the Mountain West Conference in rushing defense, allowing 220.6 yards per game. In addition, UNLV surrendered 5.7 yards per carry and 27 rushing touchdowns to their opponents, both conference worsts.

UNLV's run defense should provide a nice launching-pad for Clay and Co. 


About 99 Watts of Spark

How will junior defensive end J.J. Watt spark the young and inexperienced defensive line of Wisconsin?

After losing defensive leader and team leader O'Brien Schofield, it now becomes Watt's job to step forward and motivate guys like Jordan Kohout, Louis Nzegwu, and Patrick Butrym to have impacts immediately.

Last season, Wisconsin was No. 1 in the Big Ten at stopping the run, allowing just 72 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry.

But, Wisconsin found themselves second worst in the conference at defending the pass, giving up 242 yards per game.

The defensive line may be young, but coach Bielema believes it has great depth. If J.J. Watt can play big and motivate the guys around him to develop a pass rush, the defense comes full circle. 


Enemy air raid? 

It's no secret that Wisconsin struggled to defend the pass in 2009. It would be nice to see them take more control of the opponent's air attack in 2010.

One step the Badgers took to combat their horrendous pass coverage a season ago, was by bringing in a new secondary coach, Chris Ash.

Coach Ash comes from Iowa State, and was brought in for his specialty and technique with pass defense.

Ash has been preaching techniques and fundamentals to the Badgers' secondary all summer long, so it will be interesting to see what the defensive backs show under the lights of Las Vegas.

Will they showcase their fundamentals and show attention to technique and detail? Will they break back into old habits?

Two guys to keep a close eye on in particular: Jay Valai and Aaron Henry. Valai comes into 2010 as a very hard-hitting, talented senior safety for Wisconsin.

But will he come in a defensive leader?

Valai needs to become a leader and step into the role that Chris Maragos played in 2009. Valai also needs to focus on becoming an effective pass defender and not just a great hitter.

Henry has been working to make the move from defensive back to safety over the past couple years for Wisconsin.

As a freshman, Henry showed great potential at defensive back but was soon sidelined extensively with a knee injury. Since, Henry has worked his way back into playing shape and has been moved back to safety.

Henry's growth and development is another key role in the overall growth and development of Wisconsin's defense as a whole. 


Expect the unexpected

The UNLV squad will have a new face pacing the sidelines and getting in players' faces.

Bobby Hauck takes over as the new head coach, coming in from Montana, where he guided the Grizzlies to an 80-17 record and three FCS Championship games in his seven-year tenure.

Playing a squad that has new head coach in the first game of your season can complicate game-planning a bit.

Wisconsin hasn't had too much of a chance to evaluate or break down any kind of film on Hauck and the UNLV Rebels, well, because they haven't played together yet!

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has said that he and his guys looked over some of Hauck's film from his days with Montana, but really don't know fully what to expect from Hauck with the Running Rebels.

Bielema and the Wisconsin coaching staff have been focusing on playing "Wisconsin football," knowing that if the team is ready to execute and carry out their business on the field, it'll be just fine.

Watch for some interesting play-calling from Hauck as he attempts to throw some surprises Bucky's way.


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