September 11, 2009

Fresno State skill positions to test UW

MADISON, Wis. - It did not take long for Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to point out what Fresno State has as his team prepares to host the Bulldogs Saturday morning.

"The one thing they've got a lot of, and you can probably see that when you break down offensively and defensively, they've got a lot of skill," Bielema said. "They're probably the flip side of us, you know, being from where we're from geographically and what we can be able to recruit, the linemen are never really an issue for us.

"It's more along the lines of skill."

And Bielema is right. The Bulldogs, led by veteran head coach Pat Hill have great skill players. Even after losing last year's quarterback Tom Brandstater and tight end Bear Pascoe to the NFL, Fresno State still returns stud running backs Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Robbie Rouse.

In FSU's season opening win over UC-Davis, those two backs totaled 181 yards on only 21 carries. That is an astonishing 8.62 yards per carry combined.

Individually, Mathews paced the group with 106 yards on only 11 carries, ripped off a 60-yard run and cashed in on a stellar 9.6 yards per carry average with a touchdown.

"He's a really good running back," UW senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield said. "He's a power back and a real shifty guy. He's one of those guys you really don't want to get loose because he can have a good game."

When the Badgers made the trek to Fresno State a season ago, Mathews was held in relative check. At the time, the freshman only managed to rush for 54 yards on 17 carries. He did, however, take a screen pass 61 yards before Jonathan Casillas was able to chase him down.

Miller, now a senior, led the Bulldogs with 58 yards rushing on seven carries. Needless to say, both those guys pack a punch that will be difficult for the Badgers to stop.

"They got a couple of them (running backs)," UW running backs coach John Settle said. "They got a couple of guys that can turn it loose and play well. The whole scheme….a running back that can play in that scheme should appreciate that scheme because he can get the ball a lot. They like to run the ball at you.

"They like to run the ball downhill at you."

But it's not just limited to that. On the flanks, the Bulldogs have some quality receivers that will give Aaron Henry, Devin Smith, Antonio Fenelus and the rest of the Badger corners plenty to handle.

In week one alone, six Bulldog receivers made at least one catch that went for a total of 201 combined yards on eight completions. That 25+ yards per reception rate speaks volumes to the way the FSU receivers are prone to make plays.

"I really believe Fresno's skill is very, very good," Bielema said. "They're wide receivers are good skill players and then the quarterback, whatever three are in there, they know why they move the football."

If UW hopes to improve to 2-0, any success will have to come from typical Wisconsin physicality and a propensity to harass whatever quarterback is under center.

"I just think back to last year and how physical the game was," Schofield said. "It was a battle at the line of scrimmage. Playing defensive line, I take pride in that we're going to have to win the line of scrimmage."

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