Wisconsin will be looking to build on its Week 1 victory under new coach Luke Fickell, and also avenge last season's surprising loss, when the 19th-ranked Badgers travel to Pullman, Wash., to face Washington State in a nonconference game on Saturday.
Wisconsin (1-0) opened the Fickell era with a 38-17 victory over Buffalo, pulling away from a 14-10 halftime lead. Washington State (1-0) rolled to a 50-24 victory over Colorado State, which scored 21 of its points in the fourth quarter.
Last year, the Cougars went into Madison, Wis., and upset the Badgers 17-14 in the second game of the season, part of the 2-3 start that led to the midseason firing of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst.
"This is not the Wisconsin team that I know growing up," said Washington State coach Jake Dickert, who grew up in Wisconsin and played college football at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he also began his coaching career as a defensive grad assistant.
"The biggest thing, new staff, they brought in new schemes and systems that they're still getting comfortable with, but the identity of Wisconsin football is there. Big, fast, tough, play aggressive, play with tons of effort."
Despite the prospect of a more balanced attack with the Air Raid offense under new coordinator Phil Longo, Wisconsin relied on its trademark ground game against Buffalo.
Chez Mellusi ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns, including an 89-yarder, and Braelon Allen added 141 yards and two more scores as the Badgers piled up 314 yards on the ground at 7.9 yards per carry.
Quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who threw for 72 touchdowns in his two seasons at SMU before transferring, completed 24 of 31 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his Badgers debut.
"If there's anything I knew going into Game 1, I knew we could run the football," Fickell said after the Buffalo game. "I knew that that could be a spark and an energy for us. And I'm not saying that just because of Braelon and Chez, because I think those are the two guys that are hardest to see in fall camp because you don't go live and let them break tackles — but the combination of those two guys and the guys up front."
Wisconsin is expected to be without linebacker Jordan Turner in the first half. Turner was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter of the opener against Buffalo and must sit out the half in Pullman, pending an appeal to the Big Ten.
The Cougars rolled in their opener behind quarterback Cameron Ward, who completed 37 of 49 passes for 451 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards and a score.
Wide receiver Lincoln Victor set career highs with 11 catches for 168 yards.
The Cougars ran for just 90 yards on 37 attempts against Colorado State, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
"Their movements and what they were doing at the defensive line caused hesitation in our run game, and it was very disruptive," Dickert said. "Our guys were reacting instead of creating the contact needed to create holes. We have to be able to run the ball more efficiently than we did last week."
Last season, Wisconsin outgained the Cougars 401-253 in total offense and had a 38:02 to 21:58 advantage in time of possession, but the Badgers lost two fumbles, had one pass intercepted and missed two field goals.
Ward completed 17 of 28 passes for 200 yards and one score in last season's win at Madison. Nakia Watson, who transferred to Washington State from Wisconsin, came back to haunt his old team with one touchdown on the ground and another pass reception for a score.
Saturday will mark the first road test for the Badgers under Fickell.
"You know, you can't go on the road and turn the ball over," Fickell said. "You can't go on the road and not be able to run the football. You can't go on the road and have an incredible amount of penalties.
"Those are things that are really difficult when you're in an environment that's not your own to overcome."
—Field Level Media