<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Team A is averaging 297 yards of offense per game, and scoring an average of 16.5 points. Their defense is ranked 41st in the country, and is allowing opponents 330 yards a game, and giving up 15.5 points. They are 1-1 on the season and have yet to beat an FBS football team in 2012.
Team B is averaging 474.5 yards of offense per game, and scoring an average of 30.5 points. Their defense is ranked 19th in the country, and is allowing opponents only 267 yards per game, while giving up 11.5 points. They are 2-0 on the season and are coming off a win over a Pac-12 opponent.
If you haven’t guessed already, it may surprise you to know that Team B is the Utah State Aggies, while Team A is the Wisconsin Badgers. Under fourth year head coach Gary Andersen, the Aggies are coming off their best season in decades and have their sights set even higher in 2012.
“They expect to go in and play well. They expect to find a way to get the game into the fourth quarter and make it be competitive and they expect to find a way to win,” Andersen said. “We’re to a point where we have those expectations regardless of who we play.”
While the Aggies have already surpassed the expectations of many with their first victory over Utah since 1997, Wisconsin has underachieved so far this season. Ranked in the top 15 to start the season, the Badgers looked lackluster in a 26-21 home victory over FCS Northern Iowa and then lost on the road at Oregon State last week, 10-7.
Following that loss, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema surprisingly fired new offensive line coach Mark Markuson after just two games with the Badgers. Bart Miller, a 27-year-old graduate assistant, will replace him.
Despite the turnover and the turmoil in Madison, Andersen and the rest of the Aggies expect Wisconsin to come out with a fire Saturday and try to get back to what they do best – making big holes for last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball to run through.
“I know they did not run the ball to their standards last week but that will be their emphasis without a doubt,” Andersen said. “They are going to want to be a big, strong, powerful football team that takes some shots down the field with play action and it’s worked very well for them.”
Wisconsin’s ability to take some shots downfield though, might be hindered if No. 1 wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is unable to play after suffering what is being called a mild concussion last week against the Badgers. On the season, Abbrederis has hauled in seven catches for 110 yards and two scores.
As of Friday, Abbrederis was listed as questionable. Multiple Wisconsin news outlets said he was not expected to play, however, Bielema said he wouldn’t be surprised if Abbrederis makes it on the field. If he does end up playing, expect USU senior corner Willie Davis to spend a good portion of the game introducing himself.
“We watched film, and he’s a good route runner. Athletically wise, I’ve lined up against better and I feel like athletically wise I’m definitely better than he is. At the same time, he runs his routes well and is crisp and that’s something that we’ve got to be aware of,” said Davis who is coming off a career-high four pass breakups against Utah.
“I’m looking for my interception and I know they’re going to throw to him, so I’m hoping they just match me up on him all day and I’ll get my opportunities, that’s all I ask. If the ball’s thrown my way, then it’s mine and I’ll make a play.”
However, shutting down the running game is what will be the key for Utah State. Wisconsin has made no attempt to hide the fact that it wants to return to its smashmouth roots, and the Badgers believe they can do that against the Aggies. USU’s game plan should be similar to the one they employed against the Utes last week in shutting down John White and forcing the Utah QB’s to win the game.
“They like to highlight (Ball) as a football player and they should. The amount of carries and the workload that he had upon himself last year was impressive, how durable he was,” Andersen said. “He is kind of the whole package and he is a lot like the (John) White kid. He stops and starts very well but he also carries himself with a pretty major physical presence. He is a very, very good football player.”
Senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, who had a career-high 12 tackles and recorded a sack against the Utes, had similar feelings.
“For the Wisconsin game, we are going to take the same mentality that we took into the Utah game,” he said. “They have a great back just like John White – Montee Ball. He is probably one of the best backs in the nation. If we can take out him like we did John White, than the game can go our way.”
On the offensive side of things, look for the Aggies to take advantage of the Badgers’ bend but don’t break defensive philosophy. The Wisconsin corners tend to play deep in an effort to not give up the big play. Utah State will have to be patient and work short passes underneath to the wide receivers and tight ends. Senior Kellen Bartlett should again play a predominant role in the offense Saturday.
Once the defense loosens up, the Aggies – who are averaging 214.5 rushing yards per game and put up 164 rushing yards on the vaunted Utah defense – plan on using Kerwynn Williams, Joe Hill, and their other backs to wear down the Badgers.
“We have got to stay humble and hungry. With our defense playing how it is in the past two games, I think we can do anything right now,” Filimoeatu said. “After that Utah win a lot of people are congratulating us but at the same time the season is not over yet, we still have 10 more games to go and we are looking forward to those games. We are going to take it game by game, play by play, and I think that our defense will step up.”
USU will need to cut down on its penalties (22 for 210 yards in two games) and turnovers, but if the Aggie defense can play at the level it did against Utah and if the USU offense can add a little to what it did against the Utes, this will be yet another game where the Aggies have a chance to knock off a BCS school on the road.
For Aggie fans unable to watch the game, which is being televised nationally on the Big Ten Network, it will be broadcast locally on KVNU (610 AM, 102.1 FM). Fans can also follow Cache Valley Daily’s sports account on Twitter, @CacheSports for game updates.
Prediction: Utah State 24, Wisconsin 20