Although his team suffered a 35-0 thrashing against Wisconsin in 2011, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion probably holds a special place in his heart for Camp Randall.
After all, that’s where the Beavers’ quarterback won his starting job.
Replacing starter Ryan Katz early in the game, then-freshman Mannion went on to throw for 244 yards against the Badgers and eventually 3,328 on the season – good for third-best in OSU history.
Now, Mannion – the first sophomore captain in Beavers’ history – and Oregon State (0-0) will have their shot at revenge against No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0) as the Badgers travel to Corvallis, Ore., in their first road game of the season.
“That quarterback definitely got better,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said during his Monday press conference. “You saw a lot of [Oregon State's] young players. I think I read a stat, I believe they played 23 first-year players a year ago, 10 true freshmen. So they’re very, very young a year ago and those guys got better in every game.”
“And I know we’re going to see a much improved football team going out there this year than we faced last year at Camp Randall. And obviously anytime you travel for the first time, it’s got its own set of issues.”
One of those issues is the travel time associated with a trip to the West Coast. While the Badgers will leave sometime Friday to make the three-plus hour flight to Oregon, the team will also be staying an hour outside Corvallis, making for a lengthy bus trip to the stadium.
However, the challenges and unique obstacles that come with playing so far from home are a valuable learning experience. Last season, the Badgers did not participate in a true road game until the waning days of October, and it showed, as the team crumbled in the second quarter at Michigan State. With a slew of new starters, Wisconsin will get a chance to gain experience and toughness in an unfriendly venue.
And there’s reason to believe the crowd at Reser Stadium will be especially raucous, as the Badgers are the highest-ranked nonconference opponent to visit the Beavers’ home field since Brigham Young University in 1977.
“The coaches are telling us [Oregon State's] hyping it up a lot out there and that’s going to be big for us,” junior linebacker Chris Borland said. “I know that’s going to be a hostile environment; I know University of Southern California has lost there a couple times. It’ll be an important test for us.”
As always, the deciding factor of this contest will undoubtedly come down to the Wisconsin pass defense. The Badgers’ pass coverage will need to improve after a performance against Northern Iowa this past weekend in which the team allowed 265 passing yards and two 30-yard plus plays for touchdowns – both in the fourth quarter.
With the team facing a more dangerous and experienced play-caller in the Beavers’ Mannion this week, as well as a dangerous play-maker in wide receiver Markus Wheaton (986 yards receiving, 190 rushing in 2011), the Badgers should prepare for the Beavers to attack early and often through the air.
Borland said limiting the costly mistakes on defense will come down to the mentality of each player on the field.
“Preparation is the easiest answer (to limiting mistakes), but to be honest with you individuals have to take it upon themselves to not let them be the ones that make the mistake,” Borland said. “One guy can cost a team a play and one play can cost a team a game. We’re in it as a team and as a team we each need to play our roles.”
Preparing for this Saturday’s game, however, has been less than convenient for the Badgers. Since the Beavers’ season-opener in Week 1 against Nicholls State – an Football Championship Subdivision school located in Thibodaux, La. – was canceled due to Hurricane Issac, the Badgers lack any updated game film of their next opponent.
Although it’s the norm for opponents to swap game film, Bielema declined to send film of last week’s win over Northern Iowa to Oregon State, stemming from the fact that the Beavers have no film of their own to offer from the current season.
While the Badgers have poured over footage of their opponent’s games from 2011, Wisconsin co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said he sees the preparation for the game as very similar to their season-opener.
“From our standpoint it’s kind of another first game, just like the last one in terms of prep,” Partridge said. “I’m sure they have at least the TV copy of our game (against UNI) if not better. So, a little bit of a film advantage for them but no problem; we just prepare like it’s a first game and for everything we can.
“We might be expecting some new things, you never know what exactly you’ll see. … It’s just another challenge.”