GAME NOTES: The 19th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers will face their final non-
conference test on Saturday afternoon, as they close out a three-game
homestand at Camp Randall Stadium with a matchup versus the South Florida
USF opened up its American Athletic Conference schedule last Friday night in a
home contest against Connecticut and came away with a 17-14 victory, snapping
a two-game losing streak in the process. This contest marks the Bulls’ first
road game of the year. They went just 1-4 away from home a season ago.
Wisconsin was put to the test on opening night against nationally-ranked LSU
and faltered down the stretch, coughing up a double-digit second-half lead to
lose, 28-24. Although the Badgers’ subsequent competition hasn’t been very
good, they have nonetheless stabilized themselves with back-to-back dominating
wins, defeating Western Illinois (37-3) and Bowling Green (68-17).
“It was a good team victory,” coach Gary Anderson said of the Badgers’ rout of
Bowling Green last weekend. “Now it’s important that we can build on that and
continue to move on.”
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two football programs.
After USF put up 36 points in its season-opening win, its offense has
struggled by posting 17 points in three straight games. Its sluggish play of
late has caused its season averages to dip to 21.8 ppg and 293.0 ypg.
The lone bright spot on the underwhelming unit is the team’s star running back
Marlon Mack. He’s carried the ball 89 times, more than half the team’s
workload, resulting in the ninth-most rushing yards in the nation (502) and
Mike White hasn’t gotten much going under center, as he’s posted an awful
completion percentage (.393) for 388 yards with two touchdowns and two
picks. The Bulls aren’t fully committed to White under center, but Steven
Bench (15-of-37, 172 yards, INT) and Quinto Flowers (1-of-4, seven yards, two
INTs) have also struggled mightily.
Rodney Adams leads the team with 10 receptions and 184 yards and is the only
player with double-digit catches or 100 receiving yards.
The stagnant offense clearly hasn’t done the team any favors, but the defense
has underachieved as well. The unit gives up just shy of 30 points per game
and has difficulty getting off the field, allowing opponents to convert third
downs at 48 percent efficiency.
The defense has been active in the turnover battle with 11 takeaways, with
Nigel Harris (26 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, three FF, FR), Jamie Byrd (31
tackles, INT, FF), Derrick Calloway (2.0 sacks) and Todd Chandler (two FR) the
top difference makers.
Wisconsin’s ground game exploded in its blowout of Bowling Green with 644
rushing yards, which was not only a school record but the most in the Big
Ten’s modern era dating back to 1946. The productive afternoon went a long way
in improving the Badgers’ offensive numbers (43.0 ppg, 510.0 ypg).
Melvin Gordon headlined the attack last weekend by setting career highs in
both yards (253) and touchdowns (five) on a mere 13 carries. Gordon appears to
be fully healthy after dealing with a minor hip injury at the start of the
season, and he’s now up to 431 yards (9.4 ypg) and six touchdowns.
“Melvin is determined for his football team,” Anderson said. “I promise you
that’s the driving force between Melvin wanting to have success.”
Corey Clement also sees plenty of backfield work with 40 carries for 213 yards
and three scores.
Tanner McEvoy has been a strong rushing option as well at quarterback, piling
up 253 yards and two scores on the ground. His work as a passer, however,
still needs work, as he’s completing less than 59 percent of his passes for
445 yards with four scores and four picks.
Alex Erickson (15 receptions, 165 yards, TD) has been a trusty possession
receiver for McEvoy, while Sam Arneson (eight receptions, 155 yards, TD) is
more utilized down the field.
The Badgers’ defense (16.0 ppg, 266.0 ypg) has feasted on lesser competition
in recent weeks and holds opponents to just 27 percent on third down this
Michael Caputo is the team’s top tackler with 21 stops to go with an
interception and a fumble recovery. Marcus Trotter (20 tackles, 2.5 TFL),
Derek Landisch (17 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Joe Schobert (15 tackles,
5.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, INT) are also off to strong starts.
Wisconsin’s potent rushing attack will be way too much for USF to compete with
in this one. Expect another big day out of Gordon as the Badgers roll.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 48, South Florida 10