The last time Austin Peay (2-1) played an FBS program, the Governors scored 33 points — and still lost by 23. That was Sept. 11 against Middle Tennessee, and this Saturday, Austin Peay will see if it can fare better against its first ever Big Ten opponent, the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0).
After escaping by virtue of a late blocked extra point against Arizona State last weekend, Wisconsin is looking for a far more impressive performance Saturday at Camp Randall. The Badgers took better care of the ball against the Sun Devils after turning the ball over four times in their first two games, but several huge special teams plays — including a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — by ASU dampened the effect of the win.
“[We’re looking for] no mental mistakes,” strong safety Jay Valai said. “Just playing strong football, playing together as a team, going out there and giving a dominating performance. That’s what we really want to do.”
Against Austin Peay, Wisconsin should be looking for a dominant performance on the ground. The Badgers’ starting offensive line averages 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, while the Governors’ defensive front comes in at only 6-foot-3, 281 pounds. Additionally, Austin Peay has given up an average of 219 yards per game so far this season, third worst in the Ohio Valley conference.
“I know our guys can see on film that [Austin Peay plays] very, very hard,” head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “The game that they just won this past weekend was a four-quarter game that they won in the end, and it’s fun to watch teams compete and do that.”
On offense, the Governors rely heavily on their top two running backs, senior Terrence Holt and junior Ryan White. Holt is Austin Peay’s first preseason Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year after rushing for 793 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009, and also returns kicks and punts. White, meanwhile, led the conference in rushing last year with 1,081 yards and 4 touchdowns, and is currently third in the conference with 290 yards and two touchdowns.
At quarterback, Jake Ryan has struggled in the first three games, completing only 45 percent of his passes for 428 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. The Governors run a fairly traditional offensive system, but Ryan does check a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage.
“You look around the country, a lot of FCS teams have upset some quality opponents,” linebacker Blake Sorensen said. “At the same time, we’ve got to get better every week, as a team, if we want to accomplish what we want at the end of the year. So we’re looking at it as a chance to get better and I think we did that this week.”
Sorenson especially will be a player to watch this weekend, as he replaces linebacker Chris Borland in the starting lineup. Borland, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was ruled out for the year by Bielema Tuesday after reinjuring his surgically repaired left shoulder against ASU.
“He was a great pass rusher,” linebacker Culmer St. Jean said. “He was just a great teammate, he just made plays when they needed to be made. Just his presence on the field, is going to be missed, probably greatly, because we knew he was very accountable and you knew he was going to do something.”
On offense, Wisconsin is looking to continue the offensive prowess displayed against ASU. Quarterback Scott Tolzien completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown, and the Badgers totaled 440 total yards. Perhaps the star of the game, though, was tight end Lance Kendricks. The 6-foot-4, 241 pound redshirt senior caught a career-high seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown on a nice redzone play-action pass from Tolzien.
“This is a real game,” St. Jean said. “This is the best team we’re going to face, because it’s the team we’re going to face this week. …They’re a great team, they run a traditional offense and they run a spread, so you get a little bit of both. It’s going to be a great game, we’re going to bring everything in our mentality and we hope they do the same.”