Wisconsin-UNLV Preview

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

interceptions.

“As a head coach, it’s an unbelievable feeling to know that

answer’s already there,” coach Bret Bielema said of having an

experienced quarterback.

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

chance.”

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.