Madison, WI – Perhaps the most obvious mismatch of the ranked Wisconsin Badgers against the South Dakota Coyotes of the FCS.
South Dakota competes in the Great West Conference and enters this tilt ranked 18th in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS poll. The Coyotes lost their opener to Air Force of the FBS, but rallied for back-to-back victories. The most recent triumph came last Saturday over Northwestern Oklahoma State by a 48-10 final.
"It's exciting for our kids and exciting for the program," said head coach Ed Meierkort, looking ahead to this weekend's clash with Wisconsin. "We're going to go out and figure out how to compete hard like we always do and let the chips fall where they may."
As for Wisconsin, it was dominant for the third straight week as it crushed Northern Illinois last Saturday by a 49-7 final. The Badgers have now outscored their three foes by a combined count of 135-24 and are clearly one of the best teams not only in the Big Ten but in all of college football. Wisconsin has now won 31 straight regular-season non-conference games, including all 23 under head coach Bret Bielema, and the program has started 3-0 every year since 2004.
"The sky is the limit in terms of our ability to keep getting better," said Badgers' quarterback Russell Wilson after the romp over Northern Illinois. "If we do that, we have a lot of potential. But potential is not anything until we keep doing it every single day. That consistency is what's very important for us."
These two teams met on just one previous occasion, a game won by Wisconsin.
South Dakota scored four offensive touchdowns in the first half against NW Oklahoma State last week. Quarterback Dante Warren tossed a 45-yard touchdown strike to open the scoring and later raced 62 yards on a run to paydirt. The Coyotes finished the game with 474 total yards, with well over 200 yards both rushing and passing.
"We were dominant from the start," said Meierkort. "I thought we looked really good defensively in the first half, and I thought we looked really good offensively in the first half and our kicker was fantastic today."
The 10 points surrendered by South Dakota last week came in the fourth quarter, long after the outcome had been decided. The Coyotes yielded only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt in the clash and permitted fewer than 10 yards per pass completion.
Through three games, South Dakota is scoring 32.7 ppg while posting 388.7 total ypg. The Coyotes have had tremendous success running the football, accumulating 209.3 ypg on the ground at a clip of 5.4 ypc. Warren is second on the team in rushing with 185 yards and two touchdowns, and he has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 488 yards with five scores and four interceptions. Jeremy Blount has just eight catches, but three of those have gone for scores.
Defensively, South Dakota is yielding 21.3 ppg and 400.7 total ypg. The club has some room for improvement against both the run and the pass, but the fact that it has come up with eight takeaways in 12 quarters is impressive.
That Coyote defense will certainly be challenged by Wisconsin, which is racking up 45.0 ppg and 505.7 total ypg. The Badgers have already scored 19 offensive touchdowns, 11 of which have come from a ground attack that accounts for 238.3 ypg at a clip of 5.6 ypc. Montee Ball leads the pack with 272 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, while Wilson and James White contribute as runners as well. Speaking of Wilson, who previously excelled at NC State, he has completed 75.8 percent of his passes for 791 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception.
As tremendous as the Wisconsin offense has been, the team's defensive unit has been as impressive, if not more so. The Badgers are surrendering just 8.0 ppg and 271.0 total ypg, including just 77.7 rushing ypg on 2.7 ypc. While the Badgers have just one takeaway to date, they have mustered seven sacks.
In the romp over Northern Illinois last time out, Wisconsin compiled 621 total yards and finished with 34 first downs. The Badgers were 10-of-14 on third down conversion attempts and held the ball for nearly 39 minutes. Six different receivers caught at least two passes, and Wilson finished with 23- of-32 passes for 347 yards with three touchdowns.
"We have a lot of guys that can make a lot of great plays," said Wilson, who does a tremendous job of spreading the ball around. "My job is to get the ball to the right guy at the right time and make plays when we need to. The offensive line is doing a tremendous job too, they really are."
Northern Illinois managed a mere 237 yards against Wisconsin and had little success moving the ball after a 67-yard scoring drive in the first quarter.