Breathe in, breathe out. We're onto the next one. LSU is gone until 2016 and Directional Illinois is here. This should be the game that allows the Badgers to get over one of the strangest and most misinformation-filled weeks in Badger history. No offense to Western Illinois, but the Leathernecks here as a guarantee game.
Could they take their guarantee, shine it up real nice and shove it right back in the Badgers' faces? Well, their offense is going to have to take about six steps up from that of a standard non-scholarship FCS team. They did beat down Valpariso 45-6, but right now the Leathernecks have 39 career FCS starts along their offensive line. Add to that they only have two seniors on offense, and it's a young team going into Camp Randall Stadium.
Of course, youth doesn't know what exactly it's supposed to do. When you consider that Trenton Norvell spent last season throwing to his three starting wide receivers in Joey Borsellino, Lance Lenoir and the immortally named Hi-C Scott, and the line opened enough holes last season that J.C. Baker had seven games over the century mark (including one against UNLV), the Leathernecks have something interesting in the FCS. Baker was also fourth on the team in receptions last season. If Western Illinois wants to throw some scares into Madison, Baker is going to be a necessity.
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Gary Andersen provides updates before Saturday
Gary Andersen met with reporters Thursday for his usually end-of-week media session. Among the highlights were some injury updates, insight into Western Illinois' offense and how the drama of this week has -- or hasn't -- affected the team.
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For Wisconsin, with nose guard Warren Herring gone until at least the Northwestern game and defensive end Konrad Zagzebski's status still in doubt, the front seven will be as inexperienced as the Leathernecks' offensive line. The Badgers' linebackers, though, weren't any sort of a problem last week and they should be able to limit them on the ground. Also, the passing game is youthful, but it's a veteran secondary that the Leathernecks get. Expecting Norvell to get through that will show Norvell to be a quarterback to be worth watching for 2016, but they want the offense to be balanced.
Even if he does, the Leathernecks already have 10 penalties for over 100 yards after last week. Short story longer? it's an offense whose time will come, but most likely it's not going to be this week.
On defense, Kevin Kintzel should be back for the Leathernecks. As such, the degree of difficulty on offense goes from minimal to partial. Kintzel is an active player, and attention has to be paid toward him. J.J. Raffelson almost averaged 10 tackles a game in a shortened season due to injury, but the thing of it is, David McDaniel's among the leaders in tackles for the Leathernecks.
If you have a safety who gets a whole bunch of tackles, that means the running game gets holes. Unless Andy Ludwig forgets who he has on the team, (and let's be honest, it's not a guarantee he won't), the Badgers are going to be getting theirs on the ground.
Of course, there's still the million-dollar question. Do the Badgers get anything through the air? Tanner McEvoy cannot possibly be any worse than he was last week. That being said, Rob Wheelwright is going to come back. That's good. They should be able to keep Alex Erickson in the game, which is good as well. Also, while Martinez Davis is a pretty good cornerback, the rest of Western Illinois' secondary is a run-stuffing safety and inexperience. So there's a chance the Badgers could be marginal through the air, maybe even at times OK.
But as it goes, if the Badgers have to pass the ball 15 times through the air this week, there's likely going to be an angry mob coming for Andy Ludwig. because it either means Western Illinois hung around too long or Andy Ludwig's doing the thing that Andy Ludwig tends to do.
Short story longer, Directional Illinois might give Wisconsin some trouble for a spell, but the road to health should begin Saturday.