Fresno State against Wisconsin is a game you’d expect to see played in March on a basketball court, but the football teams from the respective schools are making a case for the fall matchup as well.
With both teams fighting for national respect, Saturday’s game at Camp Randall is one in which both teams need a victory after their first two games of the season. Fresno State, ranked No. 19 in this week’s polls, is trying to prove they are for real after defeating Colorado and Oregon State in their first two games of the season. On the opposite end of the spectrum, No. 23 Wisconsin is trying to come back from a tough loss to No. 7 Oregon last weekend.
With Western Kentucky on the schedule for next weekend and a struggling Penn State squad looming in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 22, UW needs a win against a top-25 team like the Bulldogs.
But with the momentum from last week’s 20-point win over OSU still carrying Fresno State, and with the hard loss to the Ducks still in the Badgers’ minds, the matchup against the Bulldogs could be not only difficult but also a bit scary.
“[Fresno State’s] playing really well right now,” UW tight end Mark Anelli said. “They have a lot of emotion. They’re psyched, they’re a good team, and they’re ready to play, so I’m a little scared about that.”
However, Anelli’s fears are not shared by all his teammates. The thought of facing Fresno’s defense is not a frightening prospect for receiver Lee Evans.
“There [isn’t] anything that scares me,” Evans said. “I see that they’re aggressive, which is typical. But we play in the Big Ten. It’s physical all year.”
While Evans isn’t too worried about the defenders he’ll be going up against, or even the prospect of Fresno State’s DBs double-teaming him in order to stop his offensive production (Evans caught eight receptions for 168 yards against the Ducks), UW head coach Barry Alvarez sees plenty to fear about the Bulldog’s defense.
“Number one, No. 98 [Alan Harper] is a really good player,” Alvarez said. “He jumps out at you right away; he’s a dominant inside player. The thing that concerns me the most is that they’re a pressure team. They’re going to pressure you from all over the field. They make you make decisions fast, and they’re very physical. I’ve never seen a secondary more physical than their secondary. The thing that concerns me is the pressure that they put on you, and it’s a run blitz as well as a pass blitz.”
With Jim Sorgi expected to start in place of injured quarterback Brooks Bollinger for the second straight game, UW’s offensive line will have to give Sorgi more time in the pocket than it did against Oregon, where Sorgi was sacked three times. While the offense tries to protect Sorgi, the defense will have to find a way to stop Fresno State’s QB David Carr. With skills comparable to Oregon’s Heisman hopeful Joey Harrington, Carr will test UW’s secondary with the strength and accuracy of his throwing game.
“I think [Carr and Harrington are] very similar,” Alvarez said. “[Carr is] probably more accurate. Without looking at his numbers, offhand I would guess that [Carr] would throw for a higher percentage than Harrington would. They’re similar in stature; they’re similar in the fact that they would prefer not to run, they want to throw it.”
This solid passing game will once again test UW’s young secondary. Scott Starks was solid against Oregon, recording six tackles and one interception. Senior linebacker Nick Greisen will also be looking to stop the Bulldogs’ offense as he leads UW with 20 tackles. And if Wendell Bryant plays like he did against Oregon (seven tackles, one sack for a loss of 11 yards), the ball may not get that far away from the line of scrimmage.