10 burning Wisconsin questions

Big Ten Conference play is finally here. To help us preview Nebraska versus Wisconsin, BRR reached out to BadgerNation.com publisher Ben Worgull for his take on these 10 burning questions.

1.) After losing to Oregon State and playing Utah State close, do you feel the Badgers figured some things out against UTEP?

Worgull: "I guess? That's kind of the reaction from people around here because we know there's a big drop off in talent from Oregon State and Utah State to UTEP. Still, the Badgers establish a consistent run game for the first time, got improved play from the quarterback position with redshirt freshman Joel Stave in his first start and put up a season-high 37 points (cue Huskers' fans laughing at UW's ineptness) by finally moving the ball with some consistency.

The only problem was that the Badgers took steps back defensively, has issues in the kicking game and gave up a season-high 26 points to arguably the worst team on their non-conference schedule. Other than that, they are fine."

2.) Montee Ball goes down in that game, it's early, but what are the chances he plays against Nebraska?

Worgull: "I would say pretty high from the way Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema addressed the issue. Ball, like the rest of the team, was given Sunday off along with the usual off day Monday. He'll go through a concussion test today and I would expect he practices either today or Wednesday. Although I don't have a medical degree, it appeared Ball only received a slight concussion, as he stayed on the sideline throughout the game and was joking with teammates as he walked off the field."

James White

3.) If he can't go, talk about the two-headed monster of James Whiteand Melvin Gordon? Is there really that much of a drop off?

Worgull: "Although Wisconsin's offense has a lot issues, the depth at tailback has never been a concern. White is a talented junior who was a 1,000-yard rusher and the conference's freshman of the year two seasons ago, but has fallen victim to the success of Ball. He's more of a speed back than Ball and has been patiently waiting his turn, responding with his first touchdowns since November 2011. Gordon was Wisconsin's big recruit two years and had last season cut short with a groin injury. The redshirt freshman has been impressing people since spring practices with his ability, speed and athleticism. He's still learning the nuisances of blocking and the playbook, but he will certainly get some carries whether Ball is in the game or not."

4.) Offensive line coach Mike Markuson was let go after just two games, how big of a surprise was that and how has the o-line responded?

Worgull: "It was a shock initially, as Bielema has only publicly fired one coach in his seven years and that came after his second season. In retrospect, the move made sense. Wisconsin's identity is its running game; a unit that churns out yards on the ground and sets up the play-action passing game with its effectiveness. In Wisconsin's first two games (a 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa and a 10-7 setback at Oregon State), the Badgers were unrecognizable and were held to 168 and 78 yards rushing, respectively. Against two programs where you have a distinct size advantage in the line, that's unacceptable.

"It was evident talking to the linemen that the frustration was mounting. Markuson spent 14 years in the SEC and while he has a wealth of experience, that knowledge came from years in the spread offenses. When he tried to apply some of the things he learned in spread offenses to Wisconsin's blocking techniques, it, according to one player, was a colossal failure. There were also issues with accountability and Markuson's family still living in Mississippi that contributed to the change.

"The o-line coach Bielema hired – graduate assistant Bart Miller – is a discipline of former offensive line coach Bob Bostad, having played and coached under the now current Tampa Bay Buccaneers OL coach. The players have embraced Miller and we've seen the line take small steps forward in the last two weeks to be a more physical unit. From the Utah State to the UTEP game, it was evident that there is improvement."

5.) Under Bielema, how Wisconsin traditionally done on the road and has there been a common theme in their play?

Worgull: "Now in his seven year, Bielema is 16-12 overall in true road games. In conference road games, Bielema is 12-12. Wisconsin is 1-5 in road Big Ten openers under Bielema. Against ranked teams, Wisconsin is 8-11 overall under Bielema, including 1-6 on the road against Big Ten teams under Bielema. Now you know why Wisconsin is double-digit underdogs for only the 13th time in 20 seasons. In case you were wondering, Wisconsin is 0-3 in those games under Bielema and 3-6 under Barry Alvarez."

6.) What did the Oregon State defense do to hold the Badgers to just 207 total yards?

Worgull: "Wisconsin was horrendous on third down, going only 2 of 14 on the ‘money down' and those two conversions didn't come until late in the fourth quarter. Coincidentally, Wisconsin scored its only touchdown on that drive. Danny O'Brien, who transferred from Maryland in the summer and won the starting job in camp, created two bad turnovers, including a fumble in the redzone, that stalled drives. I already talked about the failed running game and the struggles of the offensive line (which gave up three sacks). Combine all of those things and it's not shocking to hear the Badgers only controlled the ball for 24:25. It literally was as bad of a performance as you could ever imagine."

7.) Defensively, how does this team feel coming out of non-conference?

Worgull: "Unsatisfied, especially after giving up 26 points to UTEP and going through its fourth straight game without creating a turnover. Big plays continue to plague this unit. Of the nine touchdowns the defense has given up theses season, six have been scored from over 20 yards. However, Wisconsin is starting to get better pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line, have held opponents to only a 29.2 percent success rate on third down and junior middle linebacker Chris Borland is coming off a fantastic game in which he finished with 12 tackles (3.5 for loss), two sacks and a pair of pass breakups. The Badgers have a lot of experience on defense and return a lot of the same players that shutdown Nebraska in Madison last season. Many of the players are under the impression that it's only a matter of time before they really break out."

Joel Stave

8.) How do you think freshman quarterback Joel Stave did in his first start?

Worgull: "For the most part, he did what a Wisconsin quarterback is suppose to do and that's manage the game. In his first career start, Stave finished the game 12-of-17 for 210 yards a TD and an interception, becoming the fourth-straight Badgers quarterback to throw for 200 yards in his starting debut.

"Stave finished with a pass efficiency rating of 182.0, the fifth-best mark in a starting debut by a UW quarterback. With all that having been said, Stave did make the typical young mistakes, including telegraphing an out route that was easily intercepted that led to a field goal. Unlike last week where the debate was who was going to start, Bielema has already named Stave the starter, who calls a cool, confident person. We'll certainly find out if that's true this weekend when he'll certainly face more adversity."

9.) What is the key of the game for the Wisconsin offense and the Wisconsin defense?

Worgull: "Offensively, Wisconsin has to be able to run the ball and limit turnovers. If the Badgers can run the ball, it can open up different options and opportunities for the offense. If UW is held in check and forced to pass the ball, its chances of winning go way down. The Badgers turned the ball over twice last weekend and it led to nine points.

"Defensively, Wisconsin needs to eliminate the big play and respect outside containment. It wasn't Taylor Martinez, but the Badgers defended against a dual-threat quarterback in Utah State's Chuckie Keeton. Generally, Wisconsin has success against him, but lost outside containment on five occasions. It's the main reason Keeton passes for 181 yards and rushed for an additional 75. If the Badgers can keep Martinez in check and force some turnovers like they did last year, they might have a chance."

10.) Where do you think the Badgers might have a leg up?

Worgull: "To be completely honest, the only time I watched Nebraska play this season was in the third quarter of the UCLA game, so it's hard to accurately project where UW does and doesn't have advantages. I think both teams are comparable on defense and I think Nebraska has an edge at every offensive position besides tailback and tight end. Where I think the Badgers have an edge is the amount of adversity that they have faced this season. Unlike Nebraska, Wisconsin has been in four four-quarter games and found a way to win three of them. Heading into Lincoln, the Badgers will certainly be pushed unlike any environment they've already faced. Wisconsin has experienced a hostile environment in Corvallis and failed to respond. Hopefully that is a learning lesson to a young team on what he needs to do to overcome the issues that will certainly come up."

Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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