At the center of a struggling Wisconsin Badgers’ offense lies a quarterback controversy. Will the Badgers (2-1) head coach, Bret Bielema, go with redshirt freshman Joel Stave or stick with the experienced Danny O’Brien?
While Bielema has said he already knows who he’s sending out on Saturday morning, the University of Texas El-Paso probably doesn’t care as they are hoping a third time’s the charm. This is the Miners (1-2) third shot at an upset of a BCS-conference team after falling short to Oklahoma and Ole Miss in their first two games.
University of Texas El-Paso (1-2) Analsyis: Despite dropping their first two games to the Sooners and Rebels, UTEP bounced back against rival New Mexico State with a 41-28 win. The offense really began to click with quarterback Nick Lamaison throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. For his effort, he was named Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Week. Lamaison is important to the offense, but the Miners are really excited for the return of their starting running back Nathan Jeffery from a groin injury. Before leaving with the injury against Oklahoma, he racked up 177 yards against the Sooners’ better-than-average run defense. Expect a heavy dose of Jefferey come Saturday.
If the Miners are to pull off the upset that Utah State so narrowly missed, they will need to play good defense. Giving up 320 yards on the ground like they did against Ole Miss will be a big no-no against Wisconsin. UTEP has also been prone to the big play, but the Badgers have failed at executing any big plays. Something has to give right?
Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) Analysis: All signs point to the freshman Stave making his first career start this weekend. Whether that’s the right move or not is a discussion for another day. For Stave to help the Badgers extend a 25 game home non-conference winning streak, he will have to take care of the ball (#1 priority) and get some kind of passing game going. The Badgers recorded only 78 passing yards against Utah State, something they cannot do if they want to keep winning games. Bielema has given high-praise to Stave’s arm strength and his ability to make good decisions down-field. Let’s see if the coach is right or if he’s trying to calm the panic around Madison.
With the ugly start to the season, this Wisconsin defense has been overlooked. They rank 17th in the nation in run defense, something which will come handy against UTEP who will throw out a game-plan very similar to Wisconsin. Both teams will want to run the ball a lot. Linebacker Mike Taylor has been an absolute ball-hawk while recording double-digit tackles in pretty much every game he’s played in and the secondary has improved upon their disappointing game against Northern Iowa.
Prediction: Wisconsin 21 UTEP 7
This game is going to start out very slow. I can see both teams handing the ball off 90% of the time until they are forced to throw some passes. I like Wisconsin’s defense to keep playing at the level they have been and to force their first turnover of the season. UTEP’s Jeffery may be back from his groin injury, but it’s still his first full game in over two weeks. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball is surely ready out-class Jeffery. I don’t expect the offense to start looking better right away, but they will make some more baby steps towards being respectable. Scoring 21 points would be a huge success considering they’ve had only 23 over the last two games.
TV Coverage: ESPN2 at 11:00 AM CT
Betting Lines: Badgers favored by 18 points and over/under set at 47.5 points.
2012 Record straight up: 2-1
2012 Record against the spread: 0-2
2012 Record in over/under: 2-0
What are your expectations for the Badgers first-ever game with UTEP? Let me know by commenting below!
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Badgers’ Chris Borland (zimbio.com)
UTEP’s Nathan Jeffery (thedmonline.com)