Phil Mitten (1-0, +1): Wisconsin 42, Western Illinois 14
Andy Johnson (1-0, +3): Wisconsin 41, Western Illinois 17
Jake Harris (1-0, +4): Wisconsin 55, Western Illinois 14
Jake Kocorowski (1-0, +8): Wisconsin 45, Western Illinois 10
Louis Bien (0-1, +5): Wisconsin 55, Western Illinois 10
Mike Fiammetta (0-1, +7): Wisconsin 38, Western Illinois 10
Drew Hamm (0-1, +7): Wisconsin 49, Western Illinois 13
Andrew Rosin (0-1, +8): Wisconsin 52, Western Illinois 21
Has any coach in America seen his popularity drop as quickly as Wisconsin's Gary Andersen? On November 30, his Badgers were 9-2, though many viewed them as 10-1 after the officiating debacle at Arizona State cost them a chance to win in Tempe. Since that day, Wisconsin is 0-3 with losses to Penn State at home and South Carolina and LSU at neutral sites. Andersen is now 9-5 through his first 14 games at UW. For what it's worth, Bret Bielema was 13-1 at this point in his tenure in Madison.
In addition to the three-game losing streak, Andersen has raised eyebrows with his handling of junior running back Melvin Gordon and former starting quarterback Joel Stave. Gordon played but saw his carries limited in the second half against LSU, yet neither Andersen nor Gordon nor any other player mentioned an injury as the possible reason for Gordon's restricted workload during Saturday's postgame press conference. Then, on Monday, Andersen asserted that Gordon had suffered a hip flexor injury in the second quarter, while Gordon blamed himself for failing to demand that he be put in the game and said he was not given an explanation from the coaching staff as to why he was being held out.
Meanwhile, Stave did not take a snap against the Tigers, despite the fact that he had started 19 games for the Badgers and junior Tanner McEvoy was on his way to an 8-of-24 day passing. A press release was sent to the media on Tuesday indicating that Stave was dealing with a shoulder injury and would be shut down indefinitely. Later that day, however, when media members showed up at practice, Stave was practicing. He then met with the media to clarify that he was not physically injured but that he was nonetheless struggling to throw the football with the accuracy he had thrown with in the past.
All of this adds up to some pretty significant frustration - on the part of Wisconsin's players, coaches, and fans - and the unfortunate victims of all this frustration are likely to be the Leathernecks of Western Illinois on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. WIU is the last FCS team that appears on any of Wisconsin's future schedules, as the Big Ten's transition to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016 also phases out most FCS opponents.
Western Illinois is 1-0 after a dominating 45-6 win over Valparaiso. The Leathernecks scored more points and tallied a greater margin of victory than in any contest during their 4-8 campaign in 2013. They rushed for 273 yards and added 320 yards through the air in an impressive performance.
WIU's spread offense is led by sophomore quarterback Trenton Norvell, who completed 20 of 28 passes and tossed four touchdowns last week. Senior running back J.C. Baker ran for 1,149 yards a year ago and is off to a strong start this season as well. Look for the Leathernecks to try and establish the run against a Wisconsin defense that will be without nose tackle Warren Herring and possibly without defensive end Konrad Zagzebski as well.
Nine different receivers caught passes for Western Illinois in the opener, led by senior Hi-C Scott and sophomore Joey Borsellino, who led the team in receptions as a freshman. The offensive line includes four juniors and one sophomore. Both tackles made their first career starts against Valparaiso.
Western Illinois' veteran defense will try and slow down an angry Gordon. All four starters in the secondary are seniors, which could actually make things interesting as McEvoy and a green group of Badger wide receivers look to establish some semblance of rhythm in the passing game.
It will be interesting to see how the home fans respond to a week that started with the Badgers blowing a 17-point second-half lead and continued with the questionable handling of two of the team's most important players on offense. A loss here is virtually out of the question, but if the game is even close, it could get ugly in the stands.
Who has the edge?
Special Teams: Wisconsin