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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 15, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321) -- Madison, Wisconsin. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: USU 2-0, UW 1-0. Away Record: USU 0-0, UW 0-1. Neutral Record: USU 0-0, UW 0-0. Conference Record: USU 0-0, UW 0-0. Series Record: Utah State leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams coming off surprising outcomes meet in Madison on Saturday night, as the Utah State Aggies pay a visit to the Wisconsin Badgers.
Utah State is 2-0 on the young season, thanks in large part to a 27-20 overtime victory over bitter rival Utah last Friday night. The Aggies, who easily dispatched with Southern Utah in the opener, 34-3, are one of the favorites in what is expected to be the final year of football competition for the Western Athletic Conference, and the team is undefeated after two games for the time since 1997. The last time USU began a season 3-0 was back in 1978 when it actually jumped out to a 5-0 start. The Aggies have won seven straight regular-season games, and they've been victorious in each of their last three road outings, but the team is just 5-14 in road games under current head coach Gary Anderson.
Wisconsin survived its season opener at home against FCS foe Northern Iowa, but the Badgers' luck ran out last week at Oregon State as the Beavers stymied the visitors' usually-potent rushing attack in earning a hard-fought 10-7 victory. Despite the setback, UW is one of the top teams in what should be a wide-open Big Ten Conference, and the Badgers are hoping some home cooking restores their lost confidence as the team has won 17 straight at Camp Randall Stadium. Under the direction of head coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin is 40-3 at home -- that's the best home mark of any team in the FBS since 2006. The Badgers' last home loss to a non-conference opponent was a 23-5 setback to UNLV on Sept. 13, 2003.
Utah State won the only other matchup with Wisconsin, blanking the Badgers, 20-0, in Madison on Oct. 12, 1968.
The typically-bruising Badger run game was held to 35 net yards last Saturday by an Oregon State team that gutted out a tough 10-7 home victory. RB Montee Ball's Heisman hopes took a serious hit as he finished with just 61 yards on 15 carries, and Wisconsin QB Danny O'Brien threw for 172 yards with a TD and an INT, hitting WR JEff Duckworth seven times for 55 yards.
To this point in the season, Ball has rushed for 181 yards and a TD, which puts him well off his record-setting pace from last year when he rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 TDs. Still, he is as dangerous as any back in the country and he has to be accounted for every time he steps on the field.
O'Brien has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 391 yards, three TDs and one pick, and three players (Jared Abbrederis, Duckworth and Ball) have each hauled in seven balls. Abbrederis (two TDs) has logged twice as many receiving yards (110) as his closet teammate (Duckworth, 55).
Last week, the Beavers ran for just 78 yards, but produced 276 yards through the air to keep the Badgers on their heels. The UW defense was on the field for nearly 10 minutes longer than the offense, and the unit was led by LB Ethan Armstrong with 10 tackles. DB Shelton Johnson added nine stops, and LBs Chris Borland and Mike Taylor finished with eight tackles apiece.
Through two games, foes are running the ball for only 59.5 ypg, and the Badgers have yet to allow a rushing TD. However, they are surrendering 270.5 ypg and have surrender four total scores through the air, and they haven't come up with an INT yet. Taylor currently sits atop the team's tackles list with 21.
In the win over Utah, which was USU's first over a BCS school in 20 years and snapped a 12-game losing streak to its in-state rival, the Aggies scored the first 13 points of the game but then allowed the Utes to crawl back in before finally securing the seven-point victory in overtime. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton completed 22-of-32 passes for 216 yards and two TDs, while RB Kerwyn Williams rumbled his way to 95 yards and a score on 17 carries. Keeton also toted the ball 17 times, finishing with 86 yards. Kellen Bartlett led all receivers in the game with eight grabs (47 yards, one TD).
While obviously early in the season, Keeton has proven himself to be extremely valuable as he is hitting 77.2 percent of his tosses for 520 yards, four TDs and only one INT. Williams has 158 yards with a TD, while Joe Hill has scored three times and averages 10.5 ypc (116 total). Bartlett has a club-high 10 receptions, but Matt Austin leads the way with 147 receiving yards. Both have a TD catch.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies allowed just 96 net rushing yards to a Utah offense that held the ball for nearly 35 minutes last week. The Utes did manage 229 yards and a couple of TDs via the pass, but four Aggies were credited with double-digit stops in the contest, led by LB Bojay Filimoeatu with 12. Defensive lineman Jordan Neilsen tallied a pair of sacks. Both teams were penalized often; Utah 10 times for a loss of 87 yards, and Utah State a dozen times for a loss of 102 yards.
With four guys logging 15 tackles and six total players in double figures, the Aggies rely on a swarming defense to keep the opposition at bay. USU has 11 TFL and five sacks to its credit thus far.
Utah State's staunch run defense is going to be put to the test by Ball and the Badger offense from the start on Saturday night. On the other side, expect the UW defense to come after Keeton from all angles. In the end, the home team will prevail, quieting its critics -- at least for now.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 27, Utah State 17
09/12 10:36:50 ET