USF enters Camp Randall Stadium tomorrow to face the Wisconsin Badgers. It is one of three AAC-B1G match ups tomorrow: Tulane plays Rutgers and Cincinnati plays Ohio State. The game in Madison starts at 11:00 AM local time, when it should be about 71 degrees with a 0% chance of rain. This will be a welcome break after 100+ degree Saturday afternoons at Ray Jay and of course last Friday night's pouring rain.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom tells us that this game is virtually impossible for USF to win. Any match up like this is not favorable for the underdog: a P5 team that is expected to win its division playing at home against an AAC team whose loftiest goal is to make any bowl appearance at all. No one smells an upset here. I wish I could give you more hope with these stats, but you'll see that there isn't much to be found in the record books.
The most important thing to know about Wisconsin is that they have the most prolific rushing offense in the country. The Badgers average 360 rushing yards per game, which come from any of several members of the backfield, including quarterback Tanner McEvoy. Based on their virtually unstoppable ground attack, Wisconsin averages 43 points per game. USF's offense, although slowly improving, pales in comparison with 22 points per game.
Marlon Mack averages 126 yards per game, while Melvin Gordon averages 144.
Although both teams have star running backs of similar size, the stars will probably not look similar on the field tomorrow. Mack is a workhorse for USF. He will be there on almost every down to establish a threat and chip away at the defense. Gordon will come in, streak east, west, north, and south for big chunks of yardage, and go back to the sideline. Gordon isn't leaned on by Wisconsin the way Mack is by USF.
Wisconsin's average offensive lineman: 6-5/320 lbs.
And they have allowed only two sacks in their first three games. The enormous Badger linemen do not allow for much of a pass rush, especially with USF's 3-4 look. Not to mention that Wisconsin usually gets the ball out of the backfield too quickly for many pass rushers, even if they were unblocked.
If you would like to visualize what the Badgers try to do on a typical Saturday, see this:
Wisconsin has the country's 14th best rush defense, giving up just 91 yards per game.
The way the Badgers have been stuffing the ground game, Mack, Tice, Johnson and anyone else that tries to run the ball are going to have a hard time tomorrow. Surely, Paul Wulff anticipates this, so hopefully we will see some more creativity on offense. For example, instead of moving our double tight ends back and forth before plays (only to hand the ball off), maybe we will actually throw to them. If the game gets away from the Bulls, we may see Quinton Flowers come in for a drive or two, the way he did in the fourth quarter of the NC State game. That would be interesting to see again, and a good experience for Flowers, although I would rather see him kept in bubble wrap on the sideline.
Fumbles: Wisconsin has lost two; USF has recovered seven.
The Bulls have become adept at causing fumbles, and this could be a game changer. A timely turnover or two can mean everything in football. However, for USF to stay in this game, fumbles aren't really something to depend on. You won't win many games by counting on your opponents to make big mistakes. Still, causing fumbles are definitely a USF forte.
Special teams advantage: USF, as usual.
However, this advantage is smaller than in games past. Kloss is 6 of 7 in field goals, while Wisconsin's Gaglianone is 3 of 4. Chris Dunkley has returned kicks for 238 yards so far, but Wisconsin's Kenzel Doe has 212 return yards, with one less opportunity than Dunkley. Reigning AAC Special Teams Player of the Week Mattias Ciabatti has the 15th best punt average in the country, with 45 yards per punt. The Badgers' Drew Meyer averages 39 yards, good enough for 76th. Just in case field position is the deciding factor in this game (it won't be), the Bulls are in great shape.
So, there you have it. Sit back, enjoy the game tomorrow and think about how it will teach USF's young guys some career-long lessons. And just maybe, we'll be able to keep it close.