MADISON, Wis. – Austin Peay coach Rick Christophel could never imagine playing against Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium when he was the first of three brothers to quarterback the Tennessee college back in the early 1970s.
After a long career in coaching, he's got some advice for players in his FCS program before they meet the 11th-ranked Badgers on Saturday.
"I'm going to try to tell them to not look down at the other end of the field because that's discouraging," Christophel said. "We've got to go up there and play physical. If we don't, then we're going to get just beat to earth."
Wisconsin (3-0) is looking to fine tune some issues against Austin Peay (2-1) before Big Ten play begins and move on after star linebacker Chris Borland was lost for the season with a left shoulder injury in a closer-than-expected 20-19 victory over Arizona State.
"They can definitely give us preparation. They're college football players as well," Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt said. "There's going to be a lot for us — another game on film, another day for us to work on our techniques and fundamentals. It's another learning tool for us."
The Badgers want to settle on an offensive line rotation, figure out who is going to replace Borland, last season's Big Ten freshman of the year, and give John Clay enough work to increase his streak to 10 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.
The Badgers offensive line has an average advantage of 43 pounds against Austin Peay's defensive line and the 252-pound Clay is about 20 pounds bigger than everyone else on the Governors' defense once he reaches the linebackers.
After Clay, Montee Ball and dynamic freshman James White should get plenty of carries as Wisconsin continues to tinker with using a three-running back rotation in conference play to help limit the hits on Clay's surgically repaired ankles.
"I just like the way the three of them are handling it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.
The team has also been trying not to look ahead to the conference opener at Michigan State on Oct. 2.
"We really need to step it up this week. We've got Austin Peay coming in hungry, but then we go to Michigan State and hostile territory," safety Jay Valai said.
While there's been a spate of notable FCS upsets this season — South Dakota over Minnesota, North Dakota State over Kansas and James Madison over a ranked Virginia Tech to name a few — don't expect this game to match those.
Christophel acknowledges Austin Peay remains in rebuilding mode after returning to scholarship football in 2006. The Governors, nicknamed after Tennessee Gov. Austin Peay (1923-27), were picked seventh in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference in the preseason.
"It's one of those things for this program that's unbelievable — for this conference — and we have to play games like this at this level," Christophel said. "If we can just play our assignments and do the things that we're supposed to do, then hopefully we can be competitive enough to stay on the field for a little while."
Wisconsin hasn't had eye-popping success against FCS teams, beating The Citadel 45-31 in 2007 after being tied at 21 at halftime and needing a missed extra point to escape Cal Poly's upset bid in a 36-35 win in 2008.
"Jacksonville State, I believe, is in the same conference as Austin Peay, and they took care of Mississippi. So there are things that are very real about this," Bielema said. "It's still 11 on 11 and it's playing football. I know our guys can see on film that they play very, very hard."
Wisconsin remains undefeated, but in the past two weeks, teams have jumped over the Badgers in the rankings, keeping them just outside the Top 10. Bielema said he has no plans to run up the score to impress voters and that while he watches the polls, he won't chase the rankings.
"I think then you're playing outside of the game," he said. "I understand it if that costs us."