November 22, 2008

UW-Cal-Poly breakdown

MADISON, Wis. - It is not very often a team from California comes to Wisconsin to take on the UW football team, especially in late November. But when Cal-Poly comes to Camp Randall later today, it will buck the trend and hope to raise some ruckus in its long trip to Madison.

The following is a breakdown of the first ever meeting between the two schools:

When Wisconsin has the ball:

P.J. Hill has been on fire of late in the Badger backfield. The junior tailback has rushed for 106, 126 and 117 yards respectively over UW's past three games. Understanding where Cal-Poly ranks in the bowl sub-division, it would still be safe to say it hasn't seen a rushing arsenal that the Badgers present. If the Mustangs, who have a decent chance of sticking with UW, are to win the game, it must first and foremost slow the Wisconsin running game.

On the passing front, UW's suddenly emerging wide receiver core of David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon will be in for a test against Cal-Poly's secondary. While it will not be the best secondary the Badgers have seen to date, it remains particularly solid and capable of the big play.

Quarterback Dustin Sherer, who has steadily improved on a weekly basis, will need to be specifically consistent throwing the football. If he is off and gives the Mustang secondary any chances of making plays, he, and the Badgers will pay for it.

Getting offensive lineman Eric Vandenhuevel back will help the offensive line chemistry once again. In his absence a week ago, UW's big men up front did a bang-up job in the trenches, so the talent and depth has been tested. But getting a multi-year starter back can do nothing but help the banged up offensive front, especially against a much smaller Cal-Poly defensive line.

Advantage: Wisconsin

When Cal-Poly has the ball:

Senior Allen Langford may face one of the toughest challenges of his career when he matches up with Cal-Poly's 6-foot-6, 227-lbs stud wide receiver Ramses Barden. According to some NFL scouts, Barden is projected a first-day pick in the upcoming NFL draft, with some ranking him as high as a first-round pick.

The senior definitely has the size and speed necessary to be a lucrative NFL prospect, and it will be interesting to see the much smaller, Langford match skills with him in the secondary.

On top of the talented receiving core the Mustangs will present, their offense scheme, the wing-T will be one the Badgers have not seen in quite some time. In order for the Badger defense to be effective, it will have to be particularly disciplined and sound with its tackling efforts. Cal-Poly comes into the game with an impressive run game per average, so shutting down its rushing attack will be on top of the list of priorities for the Badger defenders.

Look for some key players, Jonathan Casillas, DeAndre Levy and Langford to step up and have a big game in their final appearance playing at Camp Randall.

Advantage: Push. UW has shown great flashes defensively throughout the year, but lapses in the secondary, particularly with safety help, led me to the push. If the Badger defense plays like it did in the second half of the Minnesota game, I like UW's chances.

Special teams: Both Brad Nortman and Philip Welch have had stellar freshman campaigns as the Badger specialists. Against Minnesota, it was two Nortman punts that pinned the Gophers deep in its own territory that inevitably led to two sacks. He can be a major player in the field position battle if the game is close.

Welch has answered every question necessary when asked to make field goals. He has also proven he can make his attempts in adverse conditions. Against the Gophers a week ago, he hit a 47-yarder into a swirling Camp Randall win that helped the Badgers gain some momentum early in the third quarter.

In the return game, Gilreath has once again been special. When the ball is in his hands, many things can happen and they are usually positive gains for the Badgers. He is by far, the team's biggest playmaker not named Hill or John Clay.

Advantage: Wisconsin

Prediction: Cal-Poly is ranked awfully high in the bowl sub-division so I expect this senior-led Mustang squad to come into Camp Randall with a decent chip on its shoulder. The Badgers are really in a no-win situation. If it wins by a small margin, which is somewhat likely, it will be chastised for not beating a smaller division opponent by more. And if UW should lose, it will start the media circus, much like what surfaced after Appalachian State's upset of Michigan a season ago.

Expect a tough, physical and hard fought game, but on senior day, the Badgers will pull away in the fourth quarter for a 34-21 win on senior day.

Lea's record: 7-4

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