TSX Report: Scouting Wisconsin

Minnesota at Wisconsin, Oct. 9 -- It doesn't matter that the Badgers' record is the reverse of the Gophers' record. It doesn't matter that Wisconsin has won the last six games between these teams. This is for Paul Bunyan's Axe.

If you look at the NCAA's national statistical rankings, Wisconsin fares well almost all the way across the board.

The Badgers rank among the nation's Top 32 in most of the crucial statistics. That includes everything from scoring offense to scoring defense to rushing offense to rushing defense to total offense to total defense to passing efficiency to sacks allowed.

So why does Wisconsin enter this week's Paul Bunyan Axe game against Minnesota with one loss (at Michigan State) and a near-loss (Arizona State) on its resume? Let's delve into the relatively hidden world of special-teams coverage.

After surrendering a punt return for a crucial touchdown against Michigan State, the Badgers rank 108th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yards allowed per return. They've surrendered 108 yards in six returns.

Meanwhile, after surrendering one kick return for a score against Arizona State and stopping another return at the 1-yard line, the Badgers rank 95th in yards allowed per kick return. They're at 23.4 yards per kick. (Oddly, Minnesota ranks exactly one spot ahead of Wisconsin in both of these categories).

Rest assured, special-teams coverage receives ample attention from coach Bret Bielema and his staff. When the coaches and players met the day after the 34-24 loss at Michigan State, Bielema stressed that there's no room for inconsistency on special teams.

"We can't have a mixed bag," he told reporters on Monday. "We got to go out and be able to understand what you have, what's going on on this play. It's got to be expected of you. In special teams, you only get a certain amount of reps. You only get so many chances, and 50 percent (success) out of two reps could be a huge factor."


--If you're wondering how good freshman running back James White happens to be, this is about as good of an endorsement as you can find. Wisconsin junior John Clay is the Big Ten's reigning Offensive Player of the Year, but White is pushing to take over Clay's starting job for Saturday's homecoming game against Minnesota. It probably helps that White produced 243 yards and six touchdowns in 21 carries the last two games.

"It jumped out to you right away on film on Sunday," coach Bret Bielema said. "Probably as a bystander watching the game, doesn't know anything about Wisconsin, he's a guy that's gotten better every game. He's a guy that football-sense-wise, really, really gets it."

White rushed for two touchdowns last week at Michigan State that showcased his vision and quickness.

"Because of those plays that he made, I don't think there's any other back in our program right now that, on those two specific plays, would have had those same results," Bielema said.

--Thanks in large part to a turf toe injury that forced him out for three games, Wisconsin wideout Nick Toon has just five catches for 82 yards this year. That's a far cry from last year's 54 catches for 805 yards and four touchdowns.

After catching just one pass in last week's loss at Michigan State, Toon suggested to reporters that he wants more balls thrown his way.

"I just think the main issue was I just didn't get enough opportunities to make plays," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst told the Sentinel he didn't mind Toon's sentiments, though he noted Toon dropped two passes against MSU.

"I got no problem if a guy calls for the ball," Chryst said. "In fact, I love it. Now, when it comes your way, deliver."

SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads 59-52-8 (last meeting, 2009, 31-28 Wisconsin).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Wisconsin didn't maintain much momentum from its 70-point outburst against Austin Peay. In last week's 34-24 loss at Michigan State, QB Scott Tolzien suffered his worst completion percentage (11 of 25). On the plus side, freshman James White continued to his remarkable running as he posted 98 yards and two touchdowns in just 10 carries. The Badgers still love to run the ball (239.0 yards per game) and should be able to take advantage of a Minnesota defense that allows 185.6 rushing yards per game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema threw out bouquets to DE J.J. Watt, DT Patrick Butrym and cornerbacks Antonio Fenelus and Niles Brinkley in the wake of last week's loss. In fact, he seemed relatively happy with much of the defense, but worried that his guys were on the field too much and wore down. Unfortunately for the Badgers, much of their second string features redshirt freshmen with limited experience. Look for the Badgers to try to figure out a way to keep their stars fresh and limit their snaps.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't have to block everybody for him to be successful, and in today's game, that's what you're going to need." -- Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about one of RB James White's better attributes.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Wisconsin, Oct. 9 -- It doesn't matter that the Badgers' record is the reverse of the Gophers' record. It doesn't matter that Wisconsin has won the last six games between these teams. This is for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Little more needs to be said, but we'll do it anyway. Wisconsin and Minnesota have played every year since 1890, with the exception of 1906.

KEYS TO THE GAME: While Minnesota's defense has been taking a pounding virtually all year, Wisconsin's defense had been pretty solid until last week's debacle at Michigan State. The Badgers couldn't get off the field on third and/or fourth down, which could again be an issue against a Gophers offense that is well-balanced and won't have anything to lose in their desperate desire to end a four-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Minnesota's shoddy tackling against the run sounds like a big day in the offing for John Clay and James White.


TB John Clay -- The burly junior lost both of his impressive streaks last week -- he had rushed for at least 100 yards and at least one touchdown in 10 consecutive games -- but he gets to face the opponent who allowed his biggest day. Clay trampled the Gophers for a career-high 184 yards as well as three touchdowns in last year's 31-28 win at Minnesota. He ranks 14th nationally with 116.2 rushing yards per game.

TB James White -- This speedy freshmen scored six touchdowns in his last two games. White carried just 10 times in last week's loss at Michigan State, but he produced 98 yards and two scores. He also has taken over the kick-return duties while senior David Gilreath recovers from his concussion.

CB Antonio Fenelus -- Coach Bret Bielema recognized the junior corner for his standout play at Michigan State. Not only did Fenelus earn his second interception of the year, but he also posted six tackles.


--Right tackle Josh Oglesby (knee) feels better and will be fighting to regain his job from Ricky Wagner, who has started two of the last last games while Oglesby worked his way back from injury.

--Starting OLB Chris Borland is out for the rest of the season after re-injuring his left shoulder during the Arizona State game. The Big Ten's reigning Freshman of the Year, who appeared in two games, still has his redshirt year at his disposal.

--Coach Bret Bielema said on the Big Ten's weekly coaches call that third-string quarterback Curt Phillips (torn ACL) and promising tight end Brian Wozniak (shoulder) are ready to make their season debuts.

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