MADISON, Wisconsin – Washington State’s new-look program will need time to settle in. The Cougs – playing under a first-year staff and with a remade offensive system – are still in the early stages of their developmental process.
That much was apparent last weekend, especially on offense. WSU looked out of sync for stretches as the team tried to iron out some Week 1 flaws in a 24-17 win over Idaho.
The Cougars, enjoying talent advantages across the field, overcame plenty of mistakes and avoided a loss. In short, their season opener was a trial run.
Their Week 2 matchup will be far less forgiving.
The difficulty ramps up dramatically at 12:30 p.m. Saturday when WSU meets No. 19 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Cougars will play in one of the largest sporting venues in the world. The Badgers’ home stadium can seat 80,321 spectators, ranking 21st among North American facilities.
The Cougars will be up against an established program. The Badgers haven’t had a losing season in over 21 years. In that same stretch, they have posted double-digit win totals in 10 seasons.
Wisconsin, traditionally formidable on the defensive front and in the ground game, is impressive in those facets again in 2022.
“Not everyone gets to play in that type of an environment against this caliber of a team,” WSU edge rusher Ron Stone Jr. said. “It’s gonna be different. We’re not used to seeing guys like this. They’re not like someone we play every year. They’re a good team and we’re not gonna take it for granted.”
The Cougars are 17.5-point underdogs coming into their most significant nonconference game in recent history. Since 2010, WSU is 1-3 against nonconference Power Five opponents in regular-season matchups. Excluding bowl games, the Cougars haven’t faced a ranked nonleague opponent since a 2009 loss to No. 25 Notre Dame.
Wisconsin is a well-built program that has sustained its success for decades. WSU is building its foundation. Knocking off a ranked Big Ten team on the road in a hostile environment is not yet a realistic outcome for the Cougs.
Still, we don’t think the Badgers will run away with this one. WSU’s defensive line is one of the best in the Pac-12 and should offer resistance against Wisconsin’s heavily employed rushing attack. WSU’s Air Raid passing game should be able to find a few cracks in a Badger secondary that doesn’t often compete against pass-first opponents. The Cougars also should perform with an extra level of motivation – their first-year head coach, Jake Dickert, is a Wisconsin native and over 200 of his friends and family members will be in attendance.
Ultimately, the Badger defense limits WSU’s offense for a couple of extended stretches and the Cougar defense begins to tire out late.
The pick: Wisconsin 34, Washington State 23
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