Oregon St.-Wisconsin Preview
Russell Wilson was stellar in his Wisconsin debut.
Based on the way Oregon State looked in its season-opening loss to an FCS opponent, the senior quarterback could be in for another big performance this weekend.
Wilson and the eighth-ranked Badgers look to build on a strong first effort when they face the Beavers for the first time in 50 years Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
After three productive seasons at North Carolina State, Wilson lived up to his preseason hype by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in Wisconsin's 51-17 home rout of UNLV on Sept. 1.
"Some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability,'' Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said of the 22-year-old Wilson. "Russell has been very impressive how he's handled everything.''
N.C. State decided to move on without Wilson despite his consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons and the fact he led the Wolfpack to a bowl victory in 2010. He also had a stint playing minor league baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization.
In his Badgers debut, he completed 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and ran twice for 62 yards - 46 of them coming on a second-quarter touchdown.
"It's going to open up defenses a little bit more,'' senior right tackle Josh Oglesby said. "They won't be able to load the box ... with Russell's ability to get out of the pocket or just chuck the ball downfield.''
Even when opponents decide to load the box, the Badgers have a pair of talented backs with the ability to find holes behind an offensive line that lost three starters to the NFL draft. Junior Montee Ball ran 10 times for 63 yards with three TDs in the opener while sophomore James White totaled 64 on yards and a score on 11 carries. The Badgers racked up 241 yards on the ground and did not commit a turnover en route to their 21st straight non-conference home win since losing 23-5 to UNLV on Sept. 13, 2003.
"We lost some great players on offense, but what we have returning - and what we gained in Russell - the guys who returned from last year are definitely better than they were a year ago,'' Oglesby said. "So the sky's the limit for this offense.''
Despite a solid first impression, Wilson and the Badgers know work remainins if they want to rise above the rest in a top-heavy Big Ten and contend for a national championship.
"We've got to get better, that's got to be our mind-set,'' Wilson said. "Stay hungry, keep getting better, it's just the first game.''
The Badgers will now try to take advantage of an Oregon State squad that lost 29-28 at home in overtime last Saturday to Sacramento State.
"We have obviously a big challenge ahead of us," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "A lot of this will be a mental factor for our team. I think if we can, in some fashion, take that last game and learn a lot from it, and then focus, then we'll play a better football game."
The Beavers needed to rally from 15 points down to force overtime last week. Freshman running back Malcolm Agnew scored on a 17-yard run to give Oregon State the lead in overtime, but the Hornets answered with a TD and two-point conversion to win.
Despite the outcome, Agnew ran for 223 yards - the most in the FBS last week - and three touchdowns on 33 carries.
Oregon State is expected to have tight end Joe Halahuni back from a shoulder injury, but it will be without versatile star James Rodgers in this contest. The school's all-time leader with 5,784 all-purpose yards, Rodgers suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010 and is still recovering from a pair of surgeries.
Wisconsin defeated the Beavers 23-20 in 1961, the only previous meeting between the schools.