The TSX Files: Midweek Wisconsin Update

The Wisconsin football team shares the national lead with just seven turnovers in 10 games, and they lead the nation with just 3.1 penalties per game.


When Wisconsin rolled up 83 points against Indiana last week, it inspired cracks about whether the Badgers' basketball team has the firepower to hang with the football guys.

But if you look at some other aspects of Wisconsin's rise to the top of the Big Ten and No. 7 in the BCS standings, it makes you wonder whether basketball coach Bo Ryan runs the football program.

The relatively risk-averse Ryan, who preaches taking care of the ball on offense and staying on your feet to avoid fouls on defense, has to look at Wisconsin's stats and smile.

The Badgers' basketball team led the nation in fewest turnovers last year. This fall, the football team shares the national lead with just seven turnovers in 10 games. The Badgers have a shot to break the record of 10 set in 1998.

The Badgers' basketball team led the nation in 2007-08 in scoring defense, in part because they fouled so infrequently that opponents tried just 13 free throws per game. This fall, the football team leads the nation with just 3.1 penalties per game. The Badgers also rank third with just 30.8 penalty yards per game.

While these aren't sexy stats, every little bit will help Saturday at Michigan as the Badgers try to maintain their spot in the knot atop the Big Ten. Somehow, the Wolverines have built a two-game winning streak despite committing five turnovers in each of those games. Don't expect Wisconsin to emulate that strategy to see whether it will work again.

Bret Bielema and his staff are so thorough about such things, he saw rainy weather in last week's forecast and required the team's specialists to do a ton of "wet-ball drills."

"Bottom line? On Saturday, Indiana had some turnovers," Bielema said. "We didn't. I think it was a point of emphasis that our guys carried forward to the game."


--The BCS top 10 stayed the same this week, meaning the Badgers jogged in place at No. 7 despite scoring 83 points against Indiana. While that might sound as if Wisconsin is not getting its due reward, what's most important is the team's ability to win its final two games and maintain a lead over Ohio State in the BCS.

If the Badgers, Buckeyes and Michigan State all sweep their final two games, then the team with the highest BCS rating on Dec. 5 gets the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth. If it goes Wisconsin's way, it would be the program's first BCS bowl in 11 seasons.

--When Wisconsin knocked off top-ranked Ohio State on Oct. 16 to trigger the team's rise to the top of the Big Ten charts, the Badgers didn't even find a way to get sophomore RB Montee Ball into the game. That's how far removed he was from the program's hot list.

But since freshman James White went down in the Iowa game the following week and junior John Clay the week after, Ball has become the man. In the last nine quarters, Ball has 46 carries, 313 yards and six TDs. He could maintain the same workload this week at Michigan, as Clay's sprained knee could leave him limited or force him to sit out again.

--Senior TE Lance Kendricks is one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award. Kendricks, a true dual threat who blocks and catches with equal acumen, doesn't have huge numbers due to an ankle injury that has limited him for most of the past month. However, he still leads Wisconsin with 31 catches for 473 yards and four TDs.

DE J.J. Watt (Chuck Bednarik) and RB John Clay (Doak Walker) also are semifinalists to win player of the year awards at their respective positions.

SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 49-13-1 (last meeting, 2009, 45-24 Wisconsin).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: What do you say after Wisconsin's offense provided 76 of the 83 points in last week's win over Indiana? The Badgers boast three terrific running backs in junior John Clay, sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White. They have a Mackey Award semifinalist in TE Lance Kendricks. They have two and perhaps three linemen who'll earn all-Big Ten honors. Where is there a void? Well, prior to last week, you might say the receivers hadn't achieved as much as expected. Nick Toon, expected to be the leader after posting 54 catches for 805 yards last year, missed four games with injury and didn't get his first TD until last week. He has 25 catches for 294 yards.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Wisconsin's steady defense has forced seven turnovers in the last two weeks. As players such as safety Aaron Henry and defensive end Louis Nzegwu have matured, the Badgers have enough playmakers to start to force teams to switch to their weakness. When Wisconsin beat Ohio State, it forced Terrelle Pryor to try to win with his arm. Purdue and Indiana already were one-dimensional to begin with, so the Badgers had an easier time with them. Wisconsin's numbers show the defense fourth in the Big Ten and 25th nationally in rushing defense (125.1 ypg), so look for Denard Robinson to be forced to try to beat Wisconsin with his arm as well.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody wants to talk about him running the football. He looks very special doing that, but I know he's had some picks, some bad decisions, but he's got a live arm. Because of what he can do in the running game, (it) really throws your secondary and linebackers, a lot of times, in isolated coverages." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema on Michigan QB Denard Robinson, who ranks third nationally with 1,417 rushing yards and second in total yards.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Wisconsin at Michigan, Nov. 20 -- If the Badgers handle their business the last two weeks, they can do no worse than a tie for their first Big Ten title since 1999, and the BCS would be hard-pressed to keep out Wisconsin if it doesn't earn the Big Ten's automatic berth. The Badgers didn't fare well in their last trip to Michigan, when a big lead turned into a 27-25 defeat in Rich Rodriguez's first Big Ten game, so that'll be just one more dab of motivation working for Wisconsin.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan State has been the only school this year to hold Michigan below 27 points, so expect the Badgers to try to emulate the Spartans' plan. Michigan State forced Denard Robinson to throw, and it led to three interceptions (and just one TD and 215 yards) in 29 attempts. Meanwhile, Michigan's defense has been susceptible virtually to everything. If the Wolverines' recent games are any indication, they'll do everything in their power to force Scott Tolzien to throw the ball. Considering Tolzien just completed 15 of 18 throws with three TDs against Indiana, that's a risky strategy.


TB Montee Ball -- In each of the past two weeks, the hard-running sophomore has set career-highs for rushing yards. Ball went for 167 yards and a career-high three scores in last week's win over Indiana. Though he has handled the most carries in the last two games, Michigan can't forget that Ball can catch the ball. He contributed five catches against Iowa and four against Arizona State.

DE J.J. Watt -- The redshirt junior played just 34 snaps in last week's blowout of Indiana, but he found the time to record two tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. He ranks fourth in the nation with 18 TFLs, but he failed to get a sack for the first time in six weeks. In his spare time, Watt helped to convince his younger brother, Derek, to switch from his commitment to Northwestern in order to commit to Wisconsin.

QB Scott Tolzien -- Perhaps this statistical comparison best explains Tolzien's role for the Badgers. While he ranks eighth nationally in passer efficiency (largely due to the fact he owns the country's second-best completion percentage at 72.5), he ranks just 77th nationally with 184.9 total yards per game. Wisconsin doesn't need him to throw bombs and stretch defenses; it needs him to make the right reads and keep the chains moving.


--RB John Clay missed the Indiana game with a slight MCL sprain in his right knee. Coach Bret Bielema said Monday that he hopes Clay will get some limited work in practice, which suggests he could be available Saturday at Michigan. Of course, the Badgers might be able to let him rest one more week based on the efforts Montee Ball and James White have provided.

--C Peter Konz missed the Indiana game with an injury to his right ankle. Bielema is less optimistic about Konz than Clay, so expect senior Bill Nagy to make his second consecutive start at center.

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