MADISON - Wisconsin was dominant in its season opener by pounding the football with its trio of running backs. As he watched from the sidelines, All-American tight end Travis Beckum knew that when he returned to the field, the Badger passing game would grab the headlines.
He’ll get his chance to prove that Wisconsin isn’t a one-trick offense when the Badgers host Marshall this Saturday at 11:00 a.m.
Entering his fourth season, nobody has been a bigger key to the Wisconsin offense than Beckum. The Milwaukee native led the nation’s tight ends in receiving yards (982) and second in catches with 75, one of the main reasons he was a Mackey Award finalist.
The only thing that has stopped Beckum has been injuries. He injured his shoulder against Minnesota last season and had surgery after the Outback Bowl, causing him to miss the majority of spring workouts. In the fall, Beckum tweaked his hamstring and the coaching staff did not want to risk further injury by playing him in the opener.
The sight of Beckum will be a welcomed sight to the Badgers, who have been bitten by the injury bug in fall camp and were missing five starters against Akron. Wisconsin’s health is improving, as the Badgers will also get back fullback Chris Pressley (thumb) and might get linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) back in the rotation baring any setbacks with his rehab.
“I haven’t practice in a long time, which is a good thing for me personally because I am excited to go out there and run routes,” Beckum said. “This offense is very unique because a lot of teams in the Big Ten don’t do what we do. We utilize all our key players.
“I am excited to get out there and see what this season brings."
Wisconsin will need a solid effort if they are going to get past Marshall this weekend. Despite a 3-9 record last season, the Thundering Herd looked much improved in their season opener, winning 35-10 at home against Illinois State.
Equipped with new offensive coordinator John Shannon, who came over from Toledo where the Rockets average 209.2 rushing yards (15th-best in the nation) and 448.4 total yards per game (20th-best), the Herd have young talent at nearly every offensive position.
Tailback Darius Marshall was named to Conference USA’s all-freshman team last season after rushing 123 times for 631 yards and opened the season with 115 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. Senior wide receivers Darius Passmore is a speedster and showed it against Illinois State, catching four passes for 111 yards and two scores, including one that went for 88 yards. Replacing a quarterback that threw for over 3,000 yards, redshirt freshman Mark Cann got his feet wet by passing for two touchdowns and didn’t commit a turnover.
"We went a little bit more to the running game but you have to have that big play wide receiver and that big play tight end that can make things happen for you,” said Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who is 12-23 in his three seasons at the helm.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Snyder, who was an All-American safety as a senior at Marshall in 1987, and had the challenging task of coping with harsh NCAA sanctions in which athletes were vastly overpaid in a job program and an academic scandal where an assistant coach gave athletes the answers to a final exam.
The program was placed on probation in 2001 and was stripped of a total of five scholarships over a three-year span and five scholarships for each of its 2002, ’03 and ’04 recruiting classes.
“In the past, I’ve felt I have been playing five card stud with three cards,” Snyder said. “We’ve got our numbers (85 scholarships) back. I think our team will get better each and every week.”
Defensively, Marshall should provide more of a test to Wisconsin than Akron and this is because defensive end Albert McClellan, who missed all of 2007 with a knee injury, is back and healthy, which was shown by his two sacks against Illinois State.
In addition to McClellan, Marshall returns seven of the team’s top 10 tacklers, including leading tackler free safety C.J. Spillman, who started the season off strong with 13 tackles.
“This will be a great test for us Saturday,” Snyder said. “We’ll know exactly where we are at coming out of this game.”
Marshall (1-0) vs. No.11/12 Wisconsin (1-0)
Date/Time - Saturday, September 6 at 11:00 p.m. CT
Arena – Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
Television - Big Ten Network (Matt Devlin, Charles Davis and Charissa Thompson)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – First Meeting
The Badgers are 5-0 all-time against teams currently in Conference USA. The last time
UW faced a team currently in Conference USA, the Badgers defeated Central Florida, 34-6, on Sept. 4, 2004 (UCF joined Conference USA the next season). The game marked Barry Alvarez’s 100th win at Wisconsin.
The last time Marshall faced a Big Ten team they lost to ninth-ranked Ohio State, 24-21, on Sept. 11, 2004.
Marshall head coach Mark Snyder was an assistant at Ohio State (2001-04) and Minnesota (1997-2000) for eight years.
Wisconsin has won 15 consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium, the second-longest current streak in the country (Oklahoma has won 18 straight). It is also the second-longest home winning streak in school history, trailing only the 25 in a row the Badgers won from 1900-03. UW’s last home loss came on Nov. 12, 2005 to Iowa.
The Badgers 404 rushing yards were the first 400-yard rushing day since Wisconsin gained 416 yards on the ground against Minnesota in 2002.
Sixty-three rushes to only 10 passes isn’t going to cut it next Saturday in Fresno but another ratio like that should equal success against Marshall. Even so, Marshall has more playmakers on defense, particularly the dangerous McClellan, which means the Badgers are going to have to find some type of passing game instead of handing the ball off to P.J. Hill all night. Plus, it would be wise not to send Allan Evridge into the desert having only mastered the art of handing the ball off.
Defensively, Wisconsin needs a better performance because the Marshall offense is tenfold better than Akron, despite what the pundits say.
A 26.5-favorite last week, the Badgers failed to cover due to a final minute touchdown by the Zips. This Saturday, Wisconsin is a 20.5-point favorite and I would like to think the Badgers are going to be amped to play a complete game this week instead of taking the second quarter off.
A complete game equals a Wisconsin victory by 24 points.
Wisconsin 41, Marshall 17
Worgull’s Predictions This Season
Straight up: 1-0
Vs. the Spread: 1-0