MADISON, Wis. (AP) - South Florida offensive lineman Darrell Williams views Wisconsin as a model for the future for his own school’s offense.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, they have to get past the 19th-ranked Badgers on Saturday, and Camp Randall Stadium isn’t really the ideal place for South Florida to have its first road game of the season.
“I hear it’s pretty loud out there,” Williams said. “We’ve been practicing some silent counts.”
The crowd will be particularly loud if the Bulls (4-0) let Melvin Gordon get into the end zone again. The star running back set career highs with 253 yards rushing and five scores last week against Bowling Green, while the Badgers (2-1) bullied their way to a Big Ten-record 644 yards on the ground.
“Yes, that’s the identity we’re trying to get to,” Williams said. “They run the ball really well and they’re a physical team.”
One that has its swagger back in the running game. Right tackle Rob Havenstein took the blame on behalf of the offensive line after Gordon was held to 38 yards in Wisconsin’s previous game.
One key to the improvement, Havenstein said, was more emphasis on getting the fullbacks and tight ends talking more and being connected with the offensive line when it came to blocking.
Wisconsin is relying on freshman Austin Ramesh at fullback with senior starter Derek Watt and sophomore backup Derek Straus both hurt. At tight end, Sam Arneson is new atop the depth chart at a position that had solid seniors in 2013.
The bottom line for the blockers is to be pushy and create holes for Gordon and backfield running mate Corey Clement.
“It definitely took a step forward. We kind of got back to basics,” Havenstein said.
Some things to watch Saturday as Wisconsin wraps up nonconference play:
GORDON ON THE GROUND: Gordon has downplayed talk that he’s back in the discussion as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. He’ll need more big games to keep the buzz going through the fall. The junior is tied for the FBS career rushing average record of 8.26 yards per carry after his big day last week.
MACK ATTACK: Freshman Marlon Mack also is off to a nice start in the Bulls’ backfield. He is 12th in the FBS in rushing with 502 yards, and he also has five touchdowns on 89 carries. But Wisconsin is 14th in the country in run defense after allowing just 91 yards a game over its first three contests.
QB SCHOOL: Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy gets a final nonconference tuneup before Big Ten play begins. After throwing for three touchdowns in his previous outing, McEvoy ran for a Wisconsin quarterback-record 158 yards against Bowling Green.
As the season wears on, coach Gary Andersen hopes a strong running game will help open up deep passes.
“It’s definitely a spot that we’re going to work hard on as we continue to move forward, and we hope that we see signs of it as early as this next week down the field,” Andersen said.
KEEPING MOMENTUM: A win last week over Connecticut eased some early pressure on South Florida’s Willie Taggart. The second-year coach is 4-12 with the Bulls.
While Wisconsin is a big favorite, a respectable outing at least could provide the Bulls with some confidence going into a bye week.
“Obviously the stakes are a little higher because we are playing Wisconsin, a ranked team, and it could really boost the morale of this team,” linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “We’re going to go in there and we’re going to try to win the game - we’re going to win the game.”
IN THE RED ZONE: Wisconsin’s defense wants to extend its strong start in the red zone, where it has yet to surrender a touchdown this season in five opponent drives. Wisconsin has allowed three field goals and intercepted two passes in such situations.
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