2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - UNLV at Wisconsin
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Sept. 1 at Wisconsin 51 … UNLV 17
CFN Analysis: Everyone knew that Wisconsin could run the ball on UNLV, but the offensive line made it look way too easy. Even with some major replacements, the Badger front five paved the way for 241 rushing yards and five scores, with the slimmer, quicker Montee Ball running for three of the touchdowns. Of course, the story against UNLV was Russell Wilson, who was almost perfect completing 10-of-13 passes for 255 yards and two scores, while running for 62 yards and a brilliant 46-yard touchdown. He missed a few open receivers and his footwork wasn't always textbook, but he looked every bit like the big-time quarterback the Badgers were hoping he'd be. The D struggled against the Pistol offense, bending but not breaking until late. Chris Borland led all tacklers with seven, but he and the front seven looked a bit lost at times and have to be much tighter with Oregon State up next and Chandler Harnish and NIU to follow.
UNLV didn't have a prayer against the Wisconsin buzzsaw, but there were some positives in the blowout. Caleb Herring moved well and threw better, and he would've had a much better stat-line than 18-of-27 for 146 yards and two scores if the receivers could hold on to their passes. UNLV was able to move a bit with 146 yards rushing and receiving, but the O couldn't close when the game was still in question. 51-17 is never pretty, but the Rebels really did look stronger than they were last season.
(AP) MADISON, Wis. -- Russell Wilson peeked behind him on his way to a long touchdown run and saw no one in pursuit. Wide receiver Nick Toon was delivering the final punishing block ahead.
Welcome to Wisconsin, Russell. You'll find the Badgers know how to keep a quarterback safe.
Playing his first game for the Badgers, Wilson ran for a 46-yard touchdown and threw two TD passes to lead No. 11 Wisconsin past UNLV 51-17 on Thursday night.
"I don't think I got touched at all today, which is pretty unbelievable," Wilson said. "The offensive line did a great job. They're tremendous up there. Got to keep getting better, but they really are special up front."
Montee Ball scored four touchdowns for Wisconsin (1-0), but all the attention was on Wilson.
The North Carolina State transfer is using his last year of eligibility at Wisconsin in hopes of getting the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl or better.
"Some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Russell has been very impressive how he's handled everything."
He thrived against UNLV, and thanked every one of his offensive teammates on the bench after his spectacular TD run, another sign of how humble and well-liked he is after being voted a captain following just a month in the program.
"He said, 'Thanks for the block,'" Toon said. "Big play by Russell and happy to have that running ability back there at quarterback."
With Wilson, the Badgers are built to run but have a dangerous new dimension. Ball and James White overwhelmed the undersized Rebels (0-1) from the start in the hottest game in the 94-year history of Camp Randall Stadium.
"We feed off that," Bielema said. "(Wilson) really saw how that can open things up in the passing game."
Wisconsin's running game gave Wilson plenty of opportunities to pick UNLV apart, and the charismatic signal caller calmly went to the bench and sat under a giant fan flanked by a TV camera following his every move after each score. He finished 10 of 13 for 255 yards and had two rushes for 62 yards.
Ball caught Wilson's first TD pass as a Badger from 4 yards out.
In some ways it was a typical Wisconsin opener. The Badgers scored on their first drive of the season for the sixth straight year. In some ways, it was very different: the temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees.
Wisconsin made it 13-0 when Ball took a handoff, busted through two arm tackles and high-stepped to avoid Quinton Pointer's desperation dive for a 22-yard touchdown. It was 20-0 when Wilson found top target Toon for completions of 39 and 15 yards before White punched it into the end zone from a yard out.
Ball, who finished with 63 yards rushing, also scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, making it 51-3 midway through the third quarter.
UNLV, losers of 10 straight on the road, showed some of the same jitters that coach Bobby Hauck's squads have struggled with after he finished his first season 2-11.
"We weren't ready to come in here and beat a top 10 team, certainly. But with that being said, we're going to be all right," Hauck said. "I like our guys. I like the way we play. There were a lot of negatives but there were a lot of positives to build off of."
Such as new starting quarterback Caleb Herring. He threw two second-half touchdown passes that cut the lead to 51-17 in the fourth. He kept plays alive with his feet and showed poise under relentless pressure but didn't have many options and finished 18 of 27 for 146 yards.
"Caleb Herring made a lot of mistakes but he did some good things," Hauck said. "Our guys ran hard. I thought we held our own."
UNLV failed to convert its first nine third-down conversions, and one second-quarter sequence highlighted the Rebels' struggles.
Wide receiver Phillip Payne committed a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit, center Robert Waterman snapped the ball over Herring's head for an 8-yard loss, Payne dropped a pass with no defender nearby and Nolan Kohorst pulled a 52-yard field goal wide left.
"It was good especially after we got down there in the first half and didn't capitalize," Hauck said. "We had the late hit penalty on the block at the end of the route. We just didn't capitalize in the first half. It was a shame."
Wilson has been a hot topic, dubbed Russellmania, since he arrived on campus in Madison.
Expectations are high that the 22-year-old can lead the Badgers back to a BCS game following their 21-19 loss to TCU on Jan. 1 despite losing six offensive starters, including quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Wilson joined Wisconsin after a stint playing minor league baseball for the Colorado Rockies and NC State's decision to move on without him despite his stellar numbers over three years, including a win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl last season.
"He's just so true. There's not a fake thing in his body," Bielema said.
"He's just so genuine."
UNLV (0-0) at Wisconsin (0-0) Sept. 1, 8:00, ESPN and ESPN3
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Here's The Deal … Wisconsin was coming off a rough 2002 season, but it looked like it was about to rebound with a strong, veteran 2003 team that started off the year with a win over West Virginia and an offensive explosion over Akron. And then UNLV came into town, shocked the college football world with a 23-5 win, and it turned out to be a hint of things to come as UW collapsed in a 7-6 season. Things are a little different this time around.
After coming off a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance, Wisconsin is back to being the big, bad, bullies like Barry Alvarez put together in the early 1990s, and now it's tone-setting time. Last year, the Badgers went to Vegas and totally dominated in a 41-21 win that wasn't as close as the final score, and with Oregon State and a trip to Chicago to play a tough Northern Illinois team to follow, the goal is to show that it's business as usual with memories of the Rose Bowl gack to TCU still a bit too fresh.
UNLV is looking to make a statement of its own that things are different in Year Two of the Bobby Hauck era. Last year's team never found any offensive identity and was way too squish-soft on defense in an ugly 2-11 season. The 2011 Rebels might not have the horses to keep up with the Badgers, but they should be tougher on both sides of the ball and they have a few decent playmakers.
Why UNLV Might Win: If a team like UNLV is ever going to catch the Badgers flat, it might be in Week One – at least after the initial surge. Wisconsin has a new toy in QB Russell Wilson, and it's going to try to change things up a bit defensively after losing coordinator Dave Doeren to the NIU head coaching job, and it might take a little while for everything to come together. UNLV's offense would like to be Wisconsin and would love to power the ball, but that's not going to happen, so the hope will be to wing it around a bit and test the soft Badger corners. Wisconsin has talent in the secondary, but it'll give up catches. With J.J. Watt gone, if the UW defensive front can't generate a pass rush, the Rebel passing attack should work with a strong receiving corps – led by a Phillip Payne, who's back and healthy after suffering a broken right foot – likely to put up some decent numbers. If San Jose State could go into Camp Randall last year and come up with 252 passing yards and two scores, this year's UNLV passing game should be able to do the same.
Why Wisconsin Might Win: Power, power, power, power, power. UNLV's run defense was among the worst in America last year, allowing 223 yards per game and getting shoved around by anyone who applied even the slightest of breezes. After an offseason of hearing over and over and over again how the offense should've run the ball more in the Rose Bowl loss to TCU, Badger head coach Bret Bielema will have his attack get physical from the start. There will be a little bit of balance to get Wilson and the game involved, but the offensive line should be the key against a Rebel defensive front that not only won't hold up for more than a few drives, if that, but won't get a finger on the quarterback. The Wisconsin skill players should have all the time in the world to operate.
What To Watch Out For: Let's see what the new guy can do. Wisconsin has to replace some key parts to the offensive line, but it's Wisconsin; lose one massive blocker, replace him with another. Finding playmakers on the defensive front will be key, and everyone is waiting to see what a healthy Chris Borland can be at linebacker, but all eyes will be on the quarterback. Russell Wilson would've been the preseason ACC Player of the Year had he returned to NC State, and now he could be the missing ingredient to a Wisconsin team that was coming back good, but needed a decent passer to be great. It won't be about the yards with Wilson, it'll be about the efficiency. The Badgers can probably win this game without throwing a pass, but going forward, the idea is to allow the ultra-accurate Wilson time to work and time to come up with the big play. If he can hit around 65-to-70% of his throws for about 200 yards, defensive coordinators down the line will start to worry about more balance in the Badger attack.
What Will Happen: Wisconsin will rumble. UNLV is going to be
far better than it was last season, and it'll put up
more of a fight in Mountain West play and will put
in a full four quarters of effort in against the
Badgers, but the Wisconsin formula will work. Make
UNLV sell out against the run, run anyway, and then
let Wilson pick apart the Rebel secondary with its
corners on an island. Watch for Nick Toon to come up
with some big early plays, and watch for the Badgers
to get up early and set comfortably ahead, even
though UNLV will come up with some decent drives of
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 44 ... UNLV 17
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Line Wisconsin -35: O/U: 55.5
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