Austin Peay-Wisconsin Preview
Still unbeaten despite a trio of mistake-filled performances, Wisconsin has one more chance to work out its issues before beginning Big Ten play.
Austin Peay doesn't figure to mount a serious threat to the 11th-ranked Badgers, who nonetheless must replace standout linebacker Chris Borland as they host the Governors on Saturday.
After overcoming turnovers to defeat UNLV and San Jose State, Wisconsin (3-0) encountered different problems while barely passing its toughest test against Arizona State last Saturday.
The Badgers needed a blocked extra point by safety Jay Valai in the fourth quarter to preserve a 20-19 victory, which was marred by Wisconsin's sloppy kickoff coverage.
The Sun Devils had a pair of kickoff returns of at least 95 yards, one of them a 97-yard touchdown, but Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien said the early problems aren't necessarily a bad thing.
"It's only going to make us stronger as a team," Tolzien said. "Even the first two weeks, we faced some adversity with turning the ball over and stuff like that, and looking back you would never like to have those mistakes. But at the same time, hopefully that will help us in the long run, just having to fight through that adversity and work through it."
It may be harder to find a silver lining in Borland's season-ending injury. Last season's Big Ten freshman of the year had offseason surgery to correct a left shoulder problem, but he aggravated the injury against Arizona State. Wisconsin elected to shut him down for 2010, perhaps in time to get him a medical redshirt.
"Chris is a tremendous player and a ferocious competitor but after looking at all the options, everyone agreed this was the only option for him," coach Bret Bielema said in a statement.
The Badgers were also missing wide receiver Nick Toon (turf toe) and right tackle Josh Oglesby (left knee) last weekend, but their offense still showed plenty of positive signs.
John Clay surpassed 100 rushing yards for the ninth consecutive game - the nation's longest active streak - and Tolzien was 19 of 25 for 246 yards and a touchdown, boosting his completion percentage to 73.1.
Tolzien's favorite target was tight end Lance Kendricks, who caught seven passes for a career-high 131 yards and touchdown. Kendricks had a total of four receptions in the first two games.
"I accept it, putting a lot on my shoulders because that's what (the coaches) expect out of me," Kendricks said. "I think in this third game I calmed down a little bit and was able to go out there and play and perform well."
The Badgers have almost always performed well at home lately, going 38-4 at Camp Randall Stadium since the start of 2004 - including 26 consecutive wins against unranked opponents. They've won 27 straight non-conference regular season games.
Austin Peay (2-1) is an unlikely candidate to end those streaks as it faces a BCS conference foe for the first time. The Governors were a non-scholarship program from 1997-2005.
They are coming off a dramatic 26-23 win at Tennessee State to open conference play. Austin Peay took its first lead with 40 seconds left when Jake Ryan found Adrian Mines for a 7-yard touchdown.
"(Ryan) is getting better and better," Governors coach Rick Christophel said. "If he continues to improve, like he has each game this year, he's going to be a really good football player."
Austin Peay continues to rely heavily on running back Ryan White, who led the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing last year. White has averaged 7.4 yards per carry this year, totaling 290 yards and two touchdowns in three games.
The Governors will face a major challenge in slowing down Wisconsin's running game. They allowed 353 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in a 56-33 loss to Middle Tennessee on Sept. 11.