BSB Opponent Preview: No. 18 Wisconsin

Behind a solid running game and a senior quarterback, Wisconsin was projected to be a Big Ten contender in 2010. Now ranked 18th, the Badgers will be looking for a breakout win vs. OSU. Find out about the Badgers' power offense and more in this opponent preview, including depth charts, game results and other facts and figures.

Saturday, Oct. 16
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Camp Randall Stadium; Madison, Wis.

The Badgers
Head coach: Bret Bielema, 43-15, fifth season
2009 record: 10-3 (5-3, T-4th Big Ten Conference)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 53-17-5
School location: Madison, Wis.
Enrollment: 42,099
Colors: Cardinal and White
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium
Fight song: "On Wisconsin"

Wisconsin Players To Watch
RB John Clay: Coming back from offseason ankle surgery and battling true freshman James White, the reigning league offensive MVP has had to fight for his job. Though White has been more explosive, Clay has been a constant presence, a physical back at 6-1, 248 pounds who averages 6.0 yards per carry on 115 tries. He is also hard to keep out of the end zone in the red zone, totaling nine touchdowns to tie for tops in the Big Ten.

"He doesn't even look like a running back, he's a linebacker," OSU defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "He's a great player. He does a lot for that team. He's so explosive you don't even know it, but sometimes the team can be feeling down and he makes one big play and he can turn around the game. He's a game changer and it's going to be a great challenge we have this week.

RB James White: While Clay is still the starter, White looks to be locked in a battle with Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase for honors as the Big Ten's top freshman. A smaller back than Wisconsin usually boasts at 5-10, 198 pounds, White looks like a big-play threat with 7.7 yards per try on 63 carries for 485 yards. Head coach Bret Bielema has raved about the newcomer's football sense as well.

"I think he's a little more shifty, but he can be explosive as well," Heyward said. "It's going to be critical for us to contain both of them. It's going to be a hard task and it's not just going to be one guys it's going to take the whole team and just to swarm to the ball."

TE Lance Kendricks: Just the latest in Wisconsin's assembly line of big pass-catching tight ends, Kendricks has 391 yards receiving, the best in the nation at his position. After a breakout seven-catch, 128-yard performance in the Champs Sports Bowl win against Miami (Fla.) last season, he leads Wisconsin with 25 grabs and also has three touchdowns, most among the team.

DE J.J. Watt: Watt is among the most productive defensive linemen in a league full of outstanding prospects. An interesting story after transferring from Central Michigan, where he played tight end, Watt has been very active in 2010, piling up 30 tackles. In addition, his 8½ tackles for loss, place third in the Big Ten.

"We've got obviously the Cameron Heywards and (Adrian) Clayborn and the kid at Purdue, and there are some real good ones, but in my mind, Watt matches up with a lot of those guys," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said of the Big Ten's defensive ends. "He's knocked down like six balls already this year, 6-foot-6 kid, plays on the edge. He's very difficult for a tight end to handle when he has to block them."

Sept. 4, at UNLV, W 41-21
Sept. 11, San Jose State, W 27-14
Sept. 18, Arizona State, W 20-19
Sept. 25, Austin Peay, 70-3
Oct. 2, at Michigan State, L 34-23
Oct. 9, Minnesota, W 41-23

Projected Starters
QB 16 Scott Tolzien, 6-3, 205
RB 32 John Clay, 6-1, 248
FB 34 Bradie Ewing, 6-0, 234
WR 1 Nick Toon, 6-3, 218
WR 6 Isaac Anderson, 5-10, 176
TE 84 Lance Kendricks, 6-4, 241/82 Jake Byrne, 6-4, 257
LT 68 Gabe Carimi, 6-7, 327
LG 74 John Moffitt, 6-5, 323
C 66 Peter Konz, 6-5, 313
RG 70 Kevin Zeitler, 6-4, 315
RT 58 Ricky Wagner, 6-6, 322

DE 93 Louis Nzegwu, 6-4, 250
DT 95 Patrick Butrym, 6-4, 284
DT 91 Jordan Kohout, 6-3, 290
DE 99 J.J. Watt, 6-6, 292
FLB 9 Blake Sorensen, 6-1, 231
MLB 15 Culmer St. Jean, 6-0, 234
BLB 53 Mike Taylor, 6-2, 223
CB 29 Niles Brinkley, 5-10, 190
SS 2 Jay Valai, 5-9, 205
FS 7 Aaron Henry, 6-0, 204
CB 26 Antonio Fenelus, 5-9, 190

K 18 Philip Welch, 6-3, 197
P 98 Brad Nortman, 6-3, 211
PR 7 Aaron Henry, 6-0, 204/4 Jared Abbrederis, 6-2, 185
KR 85 David Gilreath, 5-11, 169/20 James White, 5-10, 198

Five Fast Facts:
1. Wisconsin has committed only 20 penalties (3.3 per game), tied for the fewest in the country. The Badgers' 30.8 penalty yards per game are the fourth-fewest in the country.

2. Senior tailback Zach Brown, who has 1,152 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons, is redshirting this season.

3. Since the start of the 2004 season, the Badgers have compiled a 40-4 record at Camp Randall Stadium. That is the best home record in the Big Ten in that span (Ohio State is 41-5).

4. Former UW wideout Lee Evans, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Wisconsin's 2003 win that snapped Ohio State's 19-game winning streak, will be the team's honorary captain. The Badgers elected six team captains during fall camp, all of them fifth-year seniors in Carimi, Kendricks, Moffitt, St. Jean, Tolzien and Valai.

5. Wisconsin is 3-5 all-time at home against the No. 1 team in the nation but have not beaten a top-ranked foe since knocking off Michigan by a 21-14 score in Madison in September 1981. The Badgers are 1-6 all-time against OSU when the Buckeyes are ranked No. 1, losing the last six in a row after the lone win in 1942.

Offensive Personnel Report
Expected to have a deep, experienced offense in 2010, Wisconsin has had to fight through a few injury scares, especially at wideout and on the offensive line. Taking out a 70-point explosion against Austin Peay, the Badgers have scored 30.6 points per game against Division I-A foes and have not turned the ball over in four-plus games

In addition, taking out kneels to run out the clock, the Badgers have scored touchdowns on their last 20 red-zone trips.

As expected with Wisconsin, the team continues to excel is in the running game. The team's power offense allows backs John Clay and James White to roll up yards as well as setting up a play-action passing game that makes good use of the tight end.

At the halfway point, Wisconsin is 11th in the nation and second in the Big Ten in rushing with a total of 240.8 yards per game. But that still hasn't come without controversy as true freshman James White has made a bid to usurp 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay as the starting tailback.

The two continued to split the carries against Minnesota, with Clay getting the better of the total while the game was still competitive. He finished with 111 yards and three touchdowns on 21 tries, while White was given 19 carries and had 118 yards and two scores.

On the year, Clay – who had offseason ankle surgery and gained weight as a result – leads the way with 115 carries for 692 yards (a 6.0-yard average) and nine touchdowns. White, a 5-10-198-pound product of Florida power St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, has 63 totes for 485 yards (7.7 yards) and eight scores. His eight touchdown runs have averaged 21.6 yards.

On the whole, the Wisconsin duo has totaled 1,177 yards, second in the nation behind the 1,232 of Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell.

The third member of the rushing trio is sophomore Montee Ball, a 5-11, 236-pound bowling ball of a rusher who is backing up a solid freshman season with 201 yards on 46 carries along with eight catches for 66 yards.

"That's the big thing, you watch the film and the big runs that they have, they get the guys moving, get them going side to side and he just cuts it back on them," OSU defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. "All of a sudden you see those big running backs going against a safety in the open space and it's not really a sight to see."

Paving the way for the Badger rushers are a pair of noteworthy fullbacks in junior Bradie Ewing and redshirt freshman Ryan Groy. Ewing, a former walk-on, can carry the ball and has two rushes for 15 yard and a TD, while Groy is a true blocker – a 6-5, 307-pound part-time offensive lineman who can still get through the hole.

That strong running game helps open up passing lanes for senior quarterback Scott Tolzien. A second-year starter, Tolzien is limited athletically but is a good game manager who has the trust of Bielema and his staff.

Wisconsin's career completion percentage leader at 65.8 percent, Tolzien is 16th in the nation in passing efficiency this year. He is 92 for 132 (69.7 percent) for 1,201 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

Redshirt freshman Jon Budamyr (6-0, 205) is 6 of 7 on the year for 55 yards as the top backup. Wisconsin has also welcomed back athletic sophomore Curt Phillips (6-3, 225) after he missed the nonconference slate with a torn ACL.

Those quarterbacks have a quartet of experienced options to throw the ball to, though injuries cost junior Nick Toon (turf toe) and senior David Gilreath (concussion) three games apiece during the nonleague schedule.

That has allowed redshirt freshman Jared Abbrederis to step up, and the 6-2, 185-pounder leads the wideout crew with 15 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown. Senior Isaac Anderson has also been healthy all year, allowing him to grab 12 passes for 117 yards.

Toon, a big target, looked like a possible All-Big Ten target last year while catching 54 passes for 805 yards, but the injury has limited him to 11 catches for 134 yards.

Gilreath, a breakout star in 2008 who has battled injury ever since, has eight catches for 148 yards, an 18.5-yard average. It's been a similar story for 6-4, 180-pound senior Kyle Jefferson, a Cleveland Glenville graduate and Big Ten champion sprinter, who has gone from 26 catches as a freshman in ‘07 to only four for 65 yards this year.

UW will also run end arounds or jet sweeps with its wideouts, as Abbrederis, Gilreath and Toon have combined for 75 yards on eight carries.

While health has been a major stumbling block for the wideouts, Wisconsin has always boasted good pass-catching tight ends and 2010 is no different. Senior Lance Kendricks has 25 catches, which he's turned into 391 yards and three scores.

"They create some mismatches in the play-action passing game because those linebackers are stepping up on the run hard so much and now you get a pass, and all he needs is a step on a linebacker," OSU cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "Kendricks, he's a very, very good player."

The Badgers will also use junior Jake Byrne, who does not have any catches, and have taken to lining up 6-3, 318-pound senior Bill Nagy – a Hudson, Ohio, native who started the first four games at right guard – as a blocking tight end.

Up front, the Badgers have juggled some spots but have a number of players with extensive experience.

"I really do believe, at that group in particular, the more competition we have, it makes every body else a little bit better," Bielema said.

The true power of the line is along the left side in returning first-team All-Big Ten players in seniors Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt. Carimi is a fourth-year starter at left tackle after taking over from first-round draft pick and current Cleveland Browns stalwart Joe Thomas, while Moffitt has started at both left guard and center since earning a starting role midway through ‘07.

The other three positions have been in a state of flux, including the center spot. Sophomore Peter Konz started the first five games there before junior Jake Current (6-3, 303) of Troy, Ohio, took over against Minnesota.

The right side of the line has been unsettled. Junior Kevin Zeitler started every game at right guard last year and has come back from an early ankle injury to unseat Nagy, while sophomore Ricky Wagner, a former walk-on, has taken over at right tackle from Josh Oglesby.

Oglesby (6-7, 335) was the No. 1 offensive tackle in the class of 2007 coming out of St. Francis, Wis., but has battled a knee injury this year. Also, 6-6, 317-pound redshirt freshman Casey Dehn has a start this year at right tackle because of injuries.

"I think they do things well," Heyward said. "I think Miami was a great offensive line as well and there's a couple teams that have a couple good players on the offensive line, but I think this is the most complete. They run so hard and finish blocks very well. They're some trees and they get so much push, it's going to be critical for us to keep up the line of scrimmage on our side."

Defensive Personnel Report
Taking away the blowout win against Austin Peay, Wisconsin's defense has been average. In five games against Division I-A opposition, the Badgers have given up 22.2 points and 338.6 yards per game.

The low point was the loss at Michigan State in which the team gave up 444 yards of offense and 34 points to the Spartans. In all, Wisconsin is fourth in the Big Ten in total defense with 308.3 yards allowed and seventh with 19.0 points per game. The Badgers have forced only six turnovers in six games.

"They're a typical Wisconsin team," OSU wideout DeVier Posey said. "They're going to hit you and that's just what they do as a program. They play smashmouth football. It's Wisconsin."

Wisconsin had to replace much of the entire defensive line, including first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, after last season, though they do still start three juniors up front. However, there are no seniors on the Badgers' D-line depth chart.

The unquestioned leader of the line is one of those juniors in end J.J. Watt. The Central Michigan transfer appears to be on his way to All-Big Ten honors. Watt is tied for second on the team with 30 tackles including 8½ for loss to go with two sacks and six pass breakups, and he has also moonlighted at tight end this year.

His backup, redshirt freshman Pat Muldoon (6-3, 262) of Cincinnati St. Xavier, has two tackles.

On the other side, Wisconsin has turned to Louis Nzegwu, who has been a nice complement to Watt. The junior has 23 tackles including two sacks. Reserve David Gilbert (6-4, 240) can also get into the backfield with 1½ sacks in his sophomore year.

In the middle, junior Patrick Butrym is the only player on the roster who had seen game action at tackle before this season, and he has 10 tackles, two of which have been for loss.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Kohout is the other starter and has 18 tackles with a sack. The top backup is redshirt freshman Ethan Hemer (6-6, 290), who has eight stops.

One of the reasons Wisconsin has struggled is the linebacker position, where last year's Big Ten freshman of the year, Chris Borland of Kettering (Ohio) Alter, is out for the year after suffering a shoulder injury in the third game.

The Badgers do have a super sophomore at linebacker, though, in boundary LB Mike Taylor. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman before his 2009 season was cut short by injury, but he's recovered to post 26 tackles, six for loss.

The other two linebackers are seniors in middle man Culmer St. Jean and field player Blake Sorensen. St. Jean is a fourth-year contributor with a team-best 33 tackles, while Sorensen is an intelligent player who has upped his strength this season and has 30 stops and an interception.

Another linebacker to watch is junior Kevin Rouse (6-0, 230), who comes in with the team's 3-3-5 nickel package known as "Badger" and has two sacks among his 11 tackles. Converted safety Kevin Claxton, a 6-1, 230-pound junior, has nine stops as a reserve, and redshirt freshman Ethan Armstrong (6-2, 237) can also make an impact with two TFL among his nine tackles.

All four starters in the secondary plus the team's third cornerback are upperclassmen. The most consistent player at cornerback is junior Antonio Fenelus, a ball-hawking junior with a team-high two interceptions to go with 23 tackles.

"Antonio probably played his best game," Bielema said after the MSU contest. "He really is a fighter, he's a competitor. Ever since he's been here, I remember the first week on campus, during fall camps freshman year, I think he went 14 or 15 practices with making a pick in every practice. He's one of those guys."

On the other side, senior Niles Brinkley is talented but inconsistent at times, though Bielema said he's getting better. Brinkley has 19 tackles and four breakups.

Third corner Devin Smith is a 5-11, 185-pound junior with 10 stops and an interception.

Strong safety Jay Valai was a second-team All-Big Ten pick but didn't think he played his best after contracting the H1N1 flu early in the season. This year, the 5-9, 205-pounder known for his big hits – he knocked out two Buckeyes in Madison two years ago – has 16 tackles. He missed the Minnesota game banged up but will be back to face the Buckeyes.

Starting at free safety, converted cornerback Aaron Henry has 23 tackles and the team's two fumble recoveries in his junior year.

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