Wisconsin Looking For Big Title

The Gophers' next opponent, Wisconsin, is looking is for bigger things than the Big Ten title. As they strive the national championship, they have a few things they need to improve on against Minnesota.

The Badgers know what they have to do down the stretch.

The basics of the game would suffice ... at least partially speaking.

Wisconsin has won its first eight games and three more wins — over Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa — would give the Badgers the undefeated record that Barry Alvarez and his staff dreamed of — but dared not speak — before the start of the season.

But if Wisconsin really wants to try for the brass ring, they may have to step it up a notch or two. The offense has been adequate this year, but it certainly does not compare with other undefeated teams like USC, Oklahoma and Auburn. If the Badgers want to win greater support in the polls, they are going to have to put up some impressive offensive performances.

Nobody is saying the Badgers need to pour it on and win games by 40 or 50 points. But they do need to demonstrate a more consistent offense, particularly in the passing game. QB John Stocco has been good enough to keep the Badgers undefeated, but he does not yet compare with the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

"We've done a lot of good things on offense this year," Stocco said. "We've hung onto the ball. Our time of possession is a lot higher than our opponent. We've been moving the ball. We just haven't put a lot of points on the board."

That's been the problem — at least in the eyes of the pollsters.

Wisconsin is scoring 21.1 points per game. That is nearly 14 points behind Big Ten-leading Minnesota (34.9 points per game) but only 6.2 points off UW's 2003 season average of 27.3.

The most glaring deficiency so far has been a lack of big pass plays (20 yards or longer). With three games to go, Wisconsin has had eight such plays. The 7-6 team from last year had 39 such plays.

RB Anthony Davis is one of the most credible rushing threats in the country, but he can't do it alone.

NOTES, QUOTES

KEEP AN EYE ON: DE Erasmus James — He is probably the best defensive player in the Big Ten. He leads the conference with seven sacks and also has 10.5 TFL. James did not play in the Badgers' Oct. 23 win over Northwestern as a result of an ankle injury suffered the week before against Purdue. He should be back in the lineup this week vs. Minnesota.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think I just need to give our receivers a better chance to make a play on the ball. A lot of times I overthrow them, which is good. If you're going to miss, that's where you want to miss. But I think if you can keep the ball outside, even if it's short, they can go make a play on it and it's still a good position. So I think it's just giving them a chance to go make a play for us is what I need to do." — QB John Stocco on what he needs to do better in the final three games.



STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: A week of rest gave the Badgers a chance to heal some bumps and bruises. That should help DEs Erasmus James and Jonathan Welsh, both of whom were suffering with ankle injuries. Wisconsin should be close to 100 percent for their last home game of the season vs. Minnesota.

STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Badgers need to become a more efficient and explosive offensive team. They average 21.1 ppg, which is near the bottom of the Big Ten. If they want national respect, they must show they can get the job done through the air. While the offensive line is big and powerful and the running game can be explosive, Wisconsin's deficiencies in the passing game may keep them out of the national championship picture if more than two teams are undefeated.

ROSTER REPORT: DE Erasmus James and DE Jonathan Welsh did not play against Northwestern because of ankle injuries. They should play this week vs. Minnesota.



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