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September 14, 2012
All-Out Blitz: Utah State
Welcome to this week's "All-Out Blitz," where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers head back to Camp Randall with a 1-1 record after losing to Oregon State on the road, and they'll take on the 2-0 Utah State Aggies at 7 p.m. CST. The game is scheduled to air on the Big Ten Network.
All Out Blitz: Utah State
What you need to know about Utah State
Head coach: Gary Andersen (4th season @ USU), 17-22 (10-13 WAC)
UNI All-Time Record: 494-507-31 (.494)
2012 Record: 2-0 (0-0 WAC)
Ranking: RV (AP), N/A (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 1-0
Did you read this?
Know Thy Foe: Utah State
2011 was an odd season for the Aggies, but it saw them return to a bowl game for the first time since 1997. The Aggies started the year 2-5, but they nearly knocked off defending national champion Auburn to start the season. But the Aggies then dropped games to Colorado State, Fresno State, and Louisiana Tech, when they were favored against all three teams. But the Aggies went on a five game winning streak to secure a bowl bid, where they lost by a point to Ohio in the Idaho Potato bowl.
The Aggies return 12 starters, including starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton, and appear to be serious contenders in the WAC this year. They suffered from a bit of bad luck last year too, since they were -9 in turnover margin and were +45.5 yards per game for the season. The schedule also makes things a little easier: they're set to face three teams that were at the FCS level last season. The Aggies have to travel to Ruston, La., to take on Louisiana Tech this year, but they're coming off their first win over Utah in 12 years, and at the very least they look like solid bets for their first consecutive bowl bid since the 1960-1961 season.
The Aggies are lead by second-year starter Chuckie Keeton, a dual-threat quarterback who won the starting job as a true freshman. Keeton threw for 1,200 yards in his first season, but was injured in the second quarter against Hawaii and missed the rest of the regular season. Senior Adam Kennedy took over and played well down the stretch, but Keeton has taken his old job back so far this season.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore has thrown for 520 yards in two games, and has shown a little more accuracy this season. Keeton has a 77.2 completion percentage this year, compared to a 60.9 mark last year in eight games. Keeton also had a big rushing day against Utah- he racked up 86 yards on 17 attempts. That's his most rushing attempts in his college career, but the Badgers will have to wary of his legs on Saturday as well.
The Aggies return three of five starters from last season's offensive line, and the starters weigh in at about 302 pounds on average. They'll pave the way for senior running back Kerwynn Williams, who rushed for 542 yards and scored three touchdowns in 2011. Williams is also the Aggies' primary kickoff returner, and the 5-foot-8 back averaged about 22 yards per return last year.
The Aggies also return three of their top four wide receivers from last season, and will look to improve on last season's numbers. Senior receiver Matt Austin had 34 receptions for 465 yards and caught six passes for touchdowns as well. Austin already has a touchdown and seven catches this year for 147 yards. Chuck Jacobs and Travis Van Leeuwen combined for 432 yards and four scores as well last year, and senior tight end Kellen Bartlett leads the team in receptions so far this year with 10.
On defense, the Aggies usually work in a 3-4 base. Senior defensive end Al Lapuaho is the only returner on the defensive line, who had just one sack last year as a starter. The Aggies' depth chart lists a true freshman, Travis Seefeldt, as the starting noseguard, and junior Connor Williams is listed as the other starting defensive end. Two starting linebackers return as well: Senior Bojay Filmoeatu and sophomore Tavaris McMillian, who combined for 85 tackles last year.
The Aggies also have an experienced defensive backfield: they return both cornerbacks and senior free safety McKade Brady from last year's unit. But the Aggies are looking for their defensive backs to make more plays this year. Only junior cornerback Nevin Lawson registered an interception last year in the backfield.
Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's offensive line vs. Utah State's defensive front
After Bret Bielema removed offensive line coach Mike Markuson following the Badgers' 10-7 loss to Oregon State last week, it's clear that the line play will be on everyone's minds this week. To put it simply, the offensive line will have to play better if the Badgers want to regain any of their footing on offense and get their season back on track. The Badgers will have to handle Utah State's 3-4 defense and get Ball going early on so they can build some confidence and momentum, or the result might not be very pretty for the Badgers once again.
The pick: Wisconsin 31 Utah State 17
After the Badgers lost to Oregon State last week, it's hard for me to make a pick with any real degree of certainty. But the Badgers are at home, and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. Both the offense and defense spoke during the week about having an added sense of urgency, and it's clear that Montee Ball is frustrated about his performance over the last few games.
If the offensive line can get things back on track, I think the Badgers will have a much easier time against the Aggies. Most of their offensive problems to date have stemmed from poor play on the line, and with a more consistent performance they should be able to get the passing game on track as well. If the line continues to struggle, the Badgers will probably be in for another contest that's too close for comfort.
The point after:
Utah State received a vote in the AP Poll for the first time since the 1966 season, putting them in a tie for 41st in the country with North Carolina. The Aggies have never been ranked in the AP Poll, and their last national ranking came in 1978 when they placed 18th in the United Press International Poll.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.