MADISON, Wisconsin – A sizable section of the crowd at Camp Randall Stadium let out a burst of applause when Wisconsin’s PA announcer introduced the first-year head coach from Washington State.
Cougs boss Jake Dickert is back in his home state, leading his underdog WSU squad against his childhood team: the Wisconsin Badgers. Hundreds of his friends and family members are here in support. They all switched allegiances for the weekend and, for the first time, are sitting on the visitors’ side of this iconic venue.
Dickert tried to hide his emotions, putting on his best poker face as he led the Cougars out of the tunnel in front of a rocking crowd that grew to about 80,000 by the time the teams kicked off Saturday afternoon.
WSU is playing with a healthy roster in its most significant nonconference matchup in recent memory. Every player listed on the Cougs’ Week 2 two-deep was available. Backup outside receiver Zeriah Beason was not present – he is apparently still working through eligibility issues that kept him off the field in Week 1. Rotational tight end Cooper Mathers sported a walking boot and watched Saturday’s game from the sideline.
The Cougs returned backup left tackle Fa’alili Fa’amoe, who was absent last Saturday in WSU’s win over Idaho for unspecified reasons. Star edge rusher Ron Stone Jr. has returned to full strength after playing in a limited capacity last weekend and throughout the preseason because of an undisclosed injury.
WSU’s defensive front is playing at maximum power – and it showed early in the game. The Cougs totaled five tackles for loss across Wisconsin’s first three possessions. The Badgers’ ground game – one of the nation’s elite rushing attacks every season – struggled to find holes between the tackles as WSU disguised its pressure packages, sending linebackers and safeties on blitzes while its defensive linemen produced steady push.
The Cougar offense produced its biggest gainer of the season so far on its first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Cameron Ward connected with slot receiver Renard Bell on a quick screen pass, and Bell made a number of cuts, weaving upfield for a 43-yard gain. WSU’s opening drive ended in the red zone when Ward threw an errant pass into tight coverage at the goal line and was intercepted by cornerback Max Lofy.
The Badgers are playing without two starters and two rotational players. First-team right tackle Riley Mahlman and starting free safety Hunter Wohler were scratches because of injuries. Reserve cornerbacks Alexander Smith and Justin Clark were also out.
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