After having their season opener postponed due to inclement weather, the Oregon State Beavers make their first appearance of the 2012 campaign when they entertain the 13th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday afternoon.
It wasn't pretty, but the Badgers managed to win their 15th straight season opener last Saturday by knocking off visiting Northern Iowa, 26-21. It was also the 17th straight home victory for Wisconsin, and its 33rd consecutive win over a non-conference opponent during the regular season. Following this contest, the Badgers return home for a pair to take on Utah State and UTEP. Their Big Ten Conference slate begins at Nebraska on Sept. 29.
Oregon State was supposed to kick off its 116th season of football competition against visiting Nicholls State last Saturday, but the Colonels' travel plans were canceled due to the presence of Hurricane Isaac in the gulf region. The game has been indefinitely suspended so now the Beavers will turn their attention to the Badgers.
Mike Riley enters his 12th season as Oregon State's head coach, and his 72 career wins leaves him just three shy of the school's all-time record. The Beavers went just 3-9 last season, and that came after a 5-7 campaign the year before. Riley hopes the return of 14 starters will help turn things around, and he will rely heavily on budding star, QB Sean Mannion.
Wisconsin owns a 2-0 lead in the all-time series with Oregon State, and the Badgers blanked the Beavers in Madison last season, 35-0.
In the narrow win over Northern Iowa last week, 2011 Heisman finalist Montee Ball rushed for 120 yards and a TD to help fuel the Wisconsin offense, which finished with 387 total yards. Ball has now scored at least one TD in 21 consecutive games, and he has eclipsed the century mark in rushing in seven straight, and 17 times in his career. New starting QB Danny O'Brien completed 19-of-23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of TDs, both to WR Jared Abbrederis who finished with six receptions for 84 yards.
Coach Bret Bielema is thrilled to have a player of Ball's caliber on his team, and knows he is going to get maximum effort from him on every play, "That was vintage Montee. He was engaged, he was eager. I saw him in pregame warm-ups and he slapped me as hard as I want to be slapped. So I thought, 'OK, I think 28 is ready to roll.'"
Even with another solid performance, Ball knows his team has to ramp up the offense for it to be truly successful this year, "Speaking from the offensive side, it's just keeping the foot on the gas. We have to keep the mentality of the attack."
Wisconsin, which dominated the time of possession battle (39:05-20:55), held the Panthers to just 41 net rushing yards and only 3-of-11 on third-down conversion attempts. Linebacker Mike Taylor, who led the Big Ten in tackles last year, paced the Badgers with 13 stops.
With Mannion at the controls as just a freshman last season, the Oregon State offense averaged 286.8 passing ypg to rank fifth in the Pac-12 Conference and 19th nationally. The rookie signal-caller completed better than 64 percent of his passes with 16 TDs and 18 INTs, and he has the benefit of having his favorite target back for another go-around, as Markus Wheaton hauled in 73 balls for 986 yards last season.
OSU's top rusher returns as well, but Malcolm Agnew gained just 423 yards. He did score five TDs, but the team as a whole was credited with only 12 rushing scores all year, and produced 50 yards or fewer in six games.
Defensively last season, the Beavers were one of the worst teams in the country against the run, yielding 196.8 ypg (last in the league, 101st nationally). The return of three starters along the defensive line and two more in the linebacking corps should be viewed as a positive, but the unit as a whole is going to have to step up its effort, particularly against a Wisconsin team that boasts a potent rushing attack.
The secondary features some guys with playmaking ability, namely senior CB Jordan Poyer, and the unit held firm last season in permitting 214.4 passing ypg to rank among the Pac-12's best in that department.