Ok, boys, this is your final exam. In addition to being their last trip through the tunnel at the Camp, this game really rides on the seniors delivering the goods.
Like the best Paul Johnson Navy teams, though undersized, this Cal Poly team can execute. Unlike any Navy team I can remember, the Mustangs have a very dangerous wide receiver, Barden, and an efficient quarterback, Dally (20 TDs to 1 INT is very impressive). What makes them such an effective tandem, however, is the effectiveness of Cal Poly's multifaceted triple option.
To beat it, the Badgers need to attack it, head on. And that falls on the seniors: Chapman, Newkirk, Shaughnessy, Levy, Casillas. These are the guys who need to step up. I'm surprised to say it, but below is a video (courtesy of the Blue-Gray Sky) of Notre Dame, of all teams, showing how to defend the triple option against a smaller, well-disciplined opponent. How do they do it? They attack the line and overpower Navy's blockers.
The Badgers have the size (an even bigger advantage than the Irish had over Navy) and skill to do just that: disrupt the flow at every position. If they can shut down the run and force the Mustangs into obvious passing downs, that gives our secondary a better chance to double up Barden and gives Shaughnessy, Chappy, and Newkirk more opportunities to really go after Dally. Finally, disrupting their blocking can allow Valai, Levy, et al., to t-off on their outside-running slot and wing backs, creating turnovers -- a problem Cal Poly has had. They've given up 25 fumbles on the year.
When the Badgers have the ball, again, it's largely on the seniors to lead the way. Urbik, Kemp, and Vanden Heuvel, as well as Pressley leading the way for the backs. Our offensive linemen outweight their three-man front by an average of 70 pounds. And Pressley is as big as any of them. We need to pound on them early and often. And we need to hang onto the ball. Cal Poly has forced 24 turnovers on the year. Let's keep it at 24.
The Mustangs come into this game fired up. It's their first -- likely only -- chance to play in a stadium like Camp Randall against one of the big boys like Wisconsin. They want to prove they are up to it. As Barden said on Saturday, “I can’t tell you how many people on our team are excited to show Wisconsin fans, the Cal Poly following, the Wisconsin team that we’ve got just as much talent, just as much hunger to play the game, just as much competitiveness, and it’s our opportunity to show it . . . We’ve got a lot of guys looking to make a name for themselves. And the only way it’s going to happen is if we execute, play our game and win. That’s what I’m planning on doing.”
There's an easy way to shut down this kind of enthusiasm. First, when they step off the plane from California, it will be really, really cold. Not something they are used to in San Luis Obispo. When they head down the tunnel in front of 80K fans, they will look around in a bit of awe, and it will still be really, really cold. Here's the key: on the first play from scrimmage, our lineman need to own them. And on the second play. And on the third.
If we win the toss, we should take the ball and start pounding on them. Beating them into submission in the first 15 minutes will likely take their enthusiasm away. That cold will be just a bit colder, that crowd will be just a big more intimidating, and that 260-pound fullback, leading a 240-pound running back, will be that much less appealing to get in the way of. And they'll just want to get back to the FCS playoffs in one piece that much sooner. By the time Jump Around hits at the end of the 3rd Quarter, we want them shaking their heads, thinking, "damn, this is crazy."
Unlike Michigan last year, the present Badgers have no delusions of grandeur. We've suffered through a sub-par season and the players and coaches know they need this win to get to a better bowl (maybe any bowl). They know they need to go out and lick the Mustangs.
So, seniors. It's your time. Run down that tunnel one more time. Badgers are pound-for-pound one of the toughest critters out there, and you guys are a lot of pounds. Show 'em you're a Badger.