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August 30, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
Welcome to the first "All-Out Blitz," of the season, where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers will kick off the 2013 season and the Gary Andersen era with a game against the UMass Minutemen, who are entering just their second season at the FBS level. The game is scheduled to kick off at 11:00 a.m. CST, and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
What you need to know about UMass
Head coach: Charley Molnar (2nd season @ UMass), 1-11 (1-7 MAC)
Massachusetts All-Time Record: 557-537-51 (.509)
2013 Record: 0-0 (0-0 MAC)
Ranking: NA (AP), NA (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: First meeting
Did you read this?
Walking the Beat: UMass
It was a rough year for the Massachusetts Minutemen. They made the jump this time last year to the FBS level and joined the MAC, where they were promptly steamrolled by most of the conference. They also scored a total of 26 points in their four non-conference games against Connecticut, Michigan, Indiana and Vanderbilt, and were shut out three total times last year. The Minutemen finished last in the FBS in scoring offense, and advanced stats weren't any kinder to them. All signs pointed to a team that probably made the jump to the FBS too soon, but there's no point in turning back now.
There are some reasons for UMass to be hopeful. For one thing, I think it's safe to say they've hit their bottom. It's going to be hard for them to get any worse on offense than they were last season, and even though they return just four starters it's not such a bad thing when a program is building for the future. A few more starters are back on defense, but it might not be enough for UMass to really compete in the MAC. They beat Akron on the road last year, which is something to build on, but at the end of the day this is a long-haul project. Charley Molnar will have his hands full- but does the UMass administration have enough patience to wait it out?
Offensively, any turnaround by UMass will need to start under center. The Minutemen return last year's starter in Mike Wegzyn, who threw for 1,825 yards as a true freshman. So while the Minutemen seemingly have hitched their wagon to Wegzyn, there's definite room for improvement in year two. Wegzyn completed just 52.6 percent of his passes last year, which isn't going to cut it long-term in a spread offense. The Minutemen will need to rack up short and fast completions if they want to catch Wisconsin or any other team off guard. Wegzyn also threw for just six touchdowns and had 10 interceptions on the season. Four of those touchdowns also came in a 37-34 loss to Ohio, so Wegzyn will have to be a good deal more consistent this season. Wegzyn also rushed 93 times, the second-most of any player on the roster.
The Minutemen mostly divided their rushing touches between four running backs last season, but their lead rusher has since graduated out of the program. Redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell is listed at the top of UMass' depth chart for their game against Wisconsin, but it's hard to tell what kind of back he is because he carried the ball just three times in one game last season. He took a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending left arm injury, so the Badgers will likely have to wait and see how UMass will use the former three-star prospect. Lorenzo Woodley and Jamal Wilson are also listed on UMass' depth chart. Wilson had 11 carries for 48 yards last season, and Woodley is a true freshman.
The Minutemen are also looking for answers in the passing game. They'll be without their top three pass-catchers from last season: senior wideout Deion Walker and senior running back Alan Williams have graduated, and tight end Rob Blanchflower will sit out with an injury. Other than those three, Tajae Sharpe and Elgin Long appear set to start against the Badgers. Sharpe caught 20 passes for 206 yards last season, but only averaged about one catch per game. Long had three catches for -3 yards as a true freshman.
On defense, the Minutemen lose their top two tacklers in linebacker Perry McIntyre and defensive back Darren Thellen, but there's at least some room for optimism. Three freshmen combined for 168 tackles to round out the top five, and all three are set to start against Wisconsin. They still have a long way to go to make this a competitive defense, but five of UMass' seven defensive starters are still underclassmen. There's room for growth, at the very least.
Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's front seven vs. UMass' offense
The Badgers are going to stick to their roots on offense under Gary Andersen, but the defense will have a whole new look with a 3-4 front. This is the first time we'll see Dave Aranda's scheme in action against another team, and with so much experience up front my bet is that it will give UMass fits. This week it's not so much about how well the Badgers contain UMass- I just want to see the new scheme and figure out how it works.
The pick: Wisconsin 45 UMass 13
The Badgers are currently 45-point favorites over the Minutemen, which is nuts. I'm not sure if I could ever pick a team to win by 45 points or more, mostly because I remember this time last year where the Badgers were heavily favored over FCS Northern Iowa with a revamped coaching staff that promised to stick to Wisconsin's roots.
But even though the Badgers have arguably gone through more change this time around, my gut says this transition went a little smoother. I don't think the Badgers will have a problem with UMass, but 45 points is still a lot. But no matter what happens in this game, Andersen's debut will give us plenty to talk about and break down.
The point after:
UMass' defensive coordinator, Phil Elmassian, coached defensive backs at Wisconsin from 1997 to 1999.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.