When the Badgers agreed to a home-and-home with Oregon State, they likely thought they were scheduling a tough home game with the Beavers in 2011. But, as was the case with Arizona State a year ago, Wisconsin's Pac-12 opponent comes to Madison as heavy underdogs.
Still, we know what the Sun Devils were able to do at Camp Randall last season as the Badgers squeaked by with a 20-19 victory. The UW coaching staff knows Oregon State can still provide a scare Saturday.
B5Q: OK, the obvious question first: What the hell happened to Oregon State against Sacramento State? We figured the Beavers would at least give the Badgers a decent test -- kind of like Arizona State did a year ago -- but were we overrating the opponent?
BTD: Coach Riley put it well when he said: "You look at all the ways you lose a game, and we did them all. All those things happened, and we started pressing, and got nervous. And that only made it worse."
Oregon St. is a very young team, and the problem has been exacerbated by injuries. 11 true freshmen dressed for the game, and eight played, including three who started. 14 Beavers made their first start, including eight on defense. And those counts don't even include a safety with one career start last season, or third string CB Sean Martin, who played more than half the game after Rashaad Reynolds, a first time starter in place of the injured Brandon Hardin, cramped up in the 90 degree plus heat. With all that, Oregon St. needed to have experienced QB Ryan Katz play well. Instead, he inexplicably came out very tentative, and it didn't help to have several passes dropped. Two turnovers inside the Sac. St. 25 yard line didn't help either. Defensively, it was a predictable situation with a CB that had never played the position even in high school, a third stringer, and a safety with one start, plus a fairly inexperienced group of linebackers. They were up against a senior QB who had a senior RB and a pair of senior WRs. The inexperienced Oregon St. defense repeatedly lost vertical spacing, and the experienced Hornets got behind them time after time. Still, Oregon St. was in position to win the game with a field goal at the end of regulation, and another of those freshmen hit the upright with his kick.
B5Q: Who are the players to watch on offense? What kind of offense does Oregon State run and how do you think it will fare against the Badger defense?
BTD: I would have said freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who replaced Jacquizz Rodgers, now in the NFL, and ran for an NCAA leading 223 yards, and 3 touchdowns, against Sacramento St., but he proceeded to pull a hamstring in practice Monday morning. How much this will affect him remains an unknown. Beyond that, watch the quarterback rotation between Katz, who was good enough to be the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week on occasion last year, but lacked consistency, and struggled last week, and redshirt freshman Sean Manion, who almost led Oregon St. back to victory against Sacramento St. Riley has said both will play. It could go well or poorly from the Oregon St. point of view, but will be a key to the game, one way or the other. Finally, keep your eye on WR Marcus Wheaton. Until James Rodgers returns from his knee injury suffered last season, Wheaton is the best player Oregon St. has.
Oregon St. runs a pro-style offense, incorporating both a tight end and/or a fullback at times. There are more short and mid-range passes than deep routes in the system, and with a rearranged offensive line, and at times a freshman at QB, the passing routes will be shortened up even more, and there will be a number of runs, including WR fly sweeps. Watching the UNLV game, I expect Oregon St. to have some success moving the ball if the self inflicted errors from week one aren't repeated.
B5Q: Who are the players to watch on defense? What kind of defense does Oregon State run and how do you think it will fare against the Badger offense?
BTD: Watch DT Kevin Frahm, who missed the Sacramento St. game with a knee injury, but will be back this week. Frahm, a senior, is just an animal, and I mean that in a good way. OLB Michael Doctor is mobile, and made some good stops in the opener as well. Oregon St. plays a base 4-3, and utilizes press coverage with the corners. The Beavers have made a conscious move to more speed on defense this year, but that means a smallish defensive front-seven. Other than Castro Masaniai, a 6'3", 325 lb. DT, who backed up Stephen Paea ( now with the Chicago Bears) last year, there is no one with much size. So the concern is that with no one well over 300 lbs., the huge Badgers offensive line will just line up and bulldoze the Beavers. With a pair of running backs like Montee Ball and James White, it could be a long night.
B5Q: Are there any major weapons on special teams the Badgers will have to worry about?
BTD: James Rodgers won't play, but CB Jordan Poyer is also the punt returner, and led the Pac-10 last year. Despite missing the field goal that would have won the game, freshman Trevor Romaine drilled two other field goals and both PATs, and all his kickoffs went deep into or through the end zone.
B5Q: Finally, your prediction for Saturday...
BTD: Realistically, playing in as tough a setting as Camp Randall, with a young team missing a couple of key starters, this was a game Oregon St. probably needed help in the form of some Wisconsin miscues in order to have a chance in anyway, and that was before all the problems that emerged last weekend. I'd like to think there will be a lot of improvement in the form of corrections, but I can still see something like 38-24 Badgers not only happening, but looking like a relatively good outcome for the Beavers, all things considered.