September 11, 2010

Five things to watch: San Jose State

MADISON - During the season opening win at UNLV last week, Wisconsin didn't waste any time setting the tone in the run game. By the end, John Clay, Montee Ball and James White rushed for nearly 300 yards against the overmatched Rebels.

Now, with a San Jose State team that gave up a bevy of rushing yards to Alabama in its season opener coming to town, the Badgers will likely target the ground attack yet again.

Before the hope opener kicks off, gives you five things to watch.

1.) Cleaning up the miscues:

Head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that he was happy that the turnovers the Badgers committed came back to bite his team in the season opener.

"I really like the attitude that the kids had after the game," Bielema said. "They knew they hadn't played the cleanest game ever, and it was much better to win that game 41-21 than it was to maybe win it 41-nothing or 41-3 or 10. It was just a way to emphasize how the bigger picture needs to come clear."

Scott Tolzien fired an interception that was returned for a touchdown and Nick Toon coughed up the ball inside the Rebel five-yard line when going in for what would have opened a 17-point lead.

Instead of being down 24-7 or worse, the Rebels entered the locker room down only three points with the momentum full on their side.

That, looking back, was one of the best things that could have happened to the Badgers. It proved, like Bielema intimated, that even just a couple of plays could have a major impact on the rest of the game.

And going into week two, against a team that is much inferior than the experienced Badgers on paper, will present the perfect opportunity to correct the mistakes that plagued them last week.

2.) Defensive momentum:

Up front, the defensive line did a great job setting the tone early against UNLV's rush. They were dropping running backs for loss of yardage and batting down balls at the line of scrimmage. That, in turn helped the linebackers play aggressively and gave the secondary a chance to settle into the game.

With week two upon us, it will be vital for the defense to continue playing at that level. But it would also be nice to see the defense, particularly the secondary, come away with a few more big, game changing plays. Interceptions and fumble recoveries do nothing but swing momentum. That could be the type of play that separates a win from a loss later in the season so it would be nice to see the team generate some sore of rhythm with tougher games upcoming.

3.) Will Budmayr play?

Both Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst have made it known that they would like to see Jon Budmayr get some minutes in Saturday's home opener.

As the only backup seemingly ready for game action behind Tolzien as Curt Phillips continues to progress from his ACL injury suffered during spring ball, experience on the field is of the highest virtue for Budmayr.

While plenty of questions surround the young freshman prospect, they truly won't begin to be answered until he is thrown into the fire of live game action.

4.) Running back distribution:

John Clay is being eased back into game shape so his carries may be limited during the opening couple weeks. As a result both Montee Ball and James White will likely see plenty of carries as they did a week ago.

But the question that remains to be seen, however, is when will Clay start to handle the majority of the reps. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to believe the carries for the junior tailback will start to increase. Whether that trends starts during today's game remains to be seen.

5.) Welcome home:

In one of the more expectation-laden seasons in recent history, Saturday will surely provide a jacked up crowd for the players to return to for the first game since closing the season against Michigan last year.

One question, though, that's always asked year in and year out is whether the student section will finally arrive on time. If I had a guess, I'd say doubtful. With a morning start and being the first game of the season, the only people in the student body that will likely fill in the seats early will be the true diehards and freshmen.

Judging by the turnout to Thursday's fan walk through, it seems the freshmen are ready to go.

"They're always excited," Bielema said. "They're freshmen and it's their first time in Camp Randall. Again, this place always amazes me. It's a fun time for everybody."


The Badgers rushing attack will be too much for the overmatched and undersized Spartans. Clay and company will find the hole's their massive offensive line will create and take advantage of a smaller defensive front seven.

Tolzien will clean up his mistakes and perform in a crisper manner. UW, being in the familiar confines of Camp Randall, will roll in this one.

I predict at 48-10 win.

Lea's record: 1-0 straight up, 1-0 against the spread.

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