For the first time in five years, Wisconsin will have a
quarterback with experience as a starter. However, the success of
the Badgers will likely rest on their running game and defense.
With Scott Tolzien returning and John Clay healthy again, No. 12
Wisconsin hopes to get off to another fast start when it opens the
season at UNLV on Saturday night.
Tolzien was the fourth starting quarterback in as many years for
the Badgers last season, but he led Wisconsin to a 10-3 record,
including a 20-14 win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. He
finished the year with 2,705 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11
“As a head coach, it’s an unbelievable feeling to know that
answer’s already there,” coach Bret Bielema said of having an
Bielema is also optimistic that Clay – the 2009 Big Ten
offensive player of the year – will be healthy.
Clay ended last season with six straight 100-yard games, and
amassed 1,517 yards with 18 touchdowns in 2009. After undergoing
surgery on both ankles, Clay is back atop the depth chart, but the
Badgers expect to give some snaps to sophomore Montee Ball and
freshman James White.
“I do know this, all three of those running backs are going to
play and they’re going to play a lot,” Bielema said. “You can see
more and more things every day (Clay is) getting to where he wants
to be or where we want him to be as well, but until that becomes
something we can count on every play of every game Montee Ball’s
going to get his chance, James White’s going to get his
A solid running game has been key to the Badgers recently. Over
the last five years, Wisconsin is 17th in the Football Bowl
Subdivision with 189.1 rushing yards per game.
However, the Badgers will have more questions on defense after
losing five starters, including end O’Brien Schofield, tackles Dan
Moore and Jeff Stehle and safety Chris Maragos. A lot of pressure
will rest on linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten’s freshman of
the year, and lineman J.J. Watt, who had 15 1/2 tackles for loss
and 4 1/2 sacks last year.
Wisconsin ranked 17th in the FBS with 305.7 yards of offense
allowed per game last season.
While the Badgers began last season unranked and their success
was somewhat surprising, they will have to avoid a letdown similar
to the one in 2008 when they began the year ranked 12th before
finishing the regular season out of the top 25.
“I realize this year we have a number of high expectations that
are on our radar,” Bielema said. “And our kids have embraced that
and really bought into the mentality of the only way we can even
guarantee any success in our first game or the last game of the
year, whenever it may be, is just do our work today.”
The Badgers, who are opening the season on the road for the
first time since 2006, have won 24 consecutive non-conference
regular-season games, including 20-13 at UNLV in the most recent
matchup in 2007.
The Rebels have a new coach in Bobby Hauck, who hopes to
institute the same high-powered offense he had over seven seasons
in Montana while leading the Grizzlies to an 80-17 record and three
Football Championship Subdivision title games.
“I’m a firm believer that you need to run the ball to win but
you need to be able to throw it to put a few people in the seats,”
Hauck said when he was introduced in December.
Junior Mike Clausen will start at quarterback for UNLV after a
solid preseason camp. He’s passed for 1,230 yards with nine
touchdowns and four interceptions in his first two seasons.
Hauck will have his work cut out for him. UNLV went 5-7 last
year and haven’t finished with a winning record since 2000. The
Rebels also gave up 32.4 points per game last season, and ranked
112th with 220.6 rushing yards allowed per game.