The No. 10 Wisconsin football team (2-0) heads to Fresno, Calif., for its first road game of the season against the No. 21 Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0).
After last season’s dismal record on the road—Wisconsin went 2-4 away from Camp Randall Stadium in ’07—there is a new emphasis on winning away from the state of Wisconsin.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of guys who know how it feels to lose on the road … so we definitely take it to heart,” junior middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. “This is definitely more of a business trip. We are going to be all about business come Saturday night.” The Badgers only won one Big Ten road game last year and are looking to change that trend this season. They will have a tough task at hand against the Bulldogs.
Wisconsin joins the very small fraternity of five teams who will play a non-conference game on the road against a Top-25 ranked team.
“We are one of only five teams in college football this year that is going on the road to play a ranked team in their own house,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “I think [it] speaks volumes about the program.”
The Bulldogs sport the top return man in the nation in junior cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Bielema emphasized the Badgers’ need to extinguish any big returns and set the tone early while on the road.
“As anyone knows when you are on the road any type of momentum that starts out in the favor of the home team can have an overwhelming effect so we have to start off fast,” he said. “We have to be able to execute.”
Against Marshall last Saturday, Wisconsin faced the nation’s No. 2 and No. 3 return men from last year, and with Jefferson this week the Badgers have ran the gauntlet in terms of playing against the nation’s best in the return game.
“We’ve got our hands full on the special teams phase once again and it has got to be a great day for all three phases,” Bielema said.
Offensively, UW proved it can run the ball—as seen by 404 yards against Akron—as well as throw the ball—with 329 yards against Marshall. The key against Fresno State will be to find a balance between the two early in the game, and use the success of one to fuel the other. Senior quarterback Allan Evridge has proven to be more than capable of shouldering the load, while junior running back P.J. Hill (267 yards), sophomore Zach Brown (123) and redshirt freshman John Clay (125) form a backfield that was quickly named the “Three-Headed Monster.”
Defensively, the play of McFadden has been tough to miss, with a team-high 20 total tackles. On the defensive line, senior Matt Shaughnessy may not have a sack, but has two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. But to have a truly productive day, the defense will have to stop Bulldogs’ sophomore running back Ryan Mathews.
Mathews is currently third in the NCAA in rushing, with a 163 yards per game. His ability to break the game open on the outside as well as grind it up the middle will make him a formidable opponent.
“They have a really good running back [Ryan Mathews]. He has good balance, you definitely have to wrap him up when you get him,” McFadden said. “We watched the Rutgers game on film and a lot of the yards he got were after contact. We [the defense] are going to have to be on our A-game to stop him.”
The game is at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.