Know Your Foe: Wisconsin

With a top 20 showdown on tap for Saturday night in Madison, we leave no stone unturned in our attempt to preview the game. spoke with publisher Ben Worgull to get his take on some of the biggest questions surrounding the Badgers heading into the game. know from the impact he had in last year's game and the numbers he is putting up this year that defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten, but is he getting much help up front? 

Worgull: Watt has taken his game to another level since the departure of O'Brien Schofield, and he needed to considering the other three projected starters had a combined two career starts. Watt is second on the team with 30 tackles, leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. The two defensive ends (David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu) and two defensive tackles (Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout) average 15.5 tackles and 2.4 tackles for loss. Good, but not great. The defense is holding opponents to only 108.2 rushing yards per game, third in the conference, but are still looking for a dominant, consistent pass rush like they had last season.

Early in the season, it seemed like Clay was not running at full strength as he recovered from offseason ankle surgery. Has he started to look like the player who was named 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year? 

Worgull: John Clay admitted to having some tenderness in his left ankle after getting hit there at the end of the first quarter against Michigan State. Other than that game, Clay has been a consistent 100-yard performer, rushing over the century mark and scoring at least once in 11 of his last 12 games.

Part of the success Clay is having is due to the emergence of true freshman James White. Coming from high school power St. Thomas Aquinas, White has rushed for 361 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three games. Combine both of them, they have 1,177 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. More importantly, they are keeping each other fresh through the first six games of the season.

Part of the optimism for this 2010 Badger offense stemmed from the return of all five starters on the offensive line, but I see the lineup has been juggled with some new starters. What led to those changes, and are they working so far? 

Worgull: The big change has been on the right side of the line. At right guard, senior Bill Nagy returned to the rotation after being limited most of last season after an on-campus scooter incident, leaving him nagging injuries in his ankle and wrist. The coaching staff gave Nagy a fair shake at the position and started him for four games over junior Kevin Zeitler, who started all 13 games last season but missed two weeks of camp with an ankle injury. A healthy Zeitler has outperformed Nagy, but the UW staff has used the Hudson, Ohio, native in certain tight end situations as of late.

At right tackle, junior Josh Oglesby has not performed up to the five-star level he was tabbed at coming out of Milwaukee. Missing five games the last two seasons with a right knee injury, the Badgers have seen converted tight end Ricky Wagner step on to the role and out play Oglesby.

Against Minnesota, UW's offensive line gave up no sacks and Tolzien had plenty of time to go through his progressions. The rotation has worked so far, but the Badgers haven't played a pressure defense like Ohio State's yet this season.

Senior safety Jay Valai has certainly left an impact in the memories of Ohio State fans after he knocked a pair of Buckeyes out of the 2008 contest. He missed the Minnesota game last week, and the Badgers gave up some big plays in the passing game. What kind of difference does he make in the secondary for UW? 

Worgull: One would think a big difference, seeing as he is one of four senior starters on the defensive side of the football, but the real key to the defense, I think, is the emergence of junior Aaron Henry. Henry has taken over Valai's role in the offense as a teeth rattler, laying some big hits on some unsuspecting wide receivers this season. A converted cornerback, Henry's hybrid skills have brought an added element to the secondary. There's no question that Valai's leadership is invaluable, but the Badgers need both of them at top form to make a true difference as the last line of defense.

Scott Tolzein's two interceptions returned for touchdowns were crucial in last season's Ohio State win, but the senior is working on a four-game streak of throwing no picks. Is he ready to redeem himself this year against the Buckeyes?

Worgull: Tolzien has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation over the last two seasons. His career pass efficiency is 148.1, sixth-best among active FBS quarterbacks, and his .658 completion percentage is third-best in the country. Those stats make his back-to-back performances against Ohio State and Iowa last season (five interceptions, no scores) somewhat surprising.

Wisconsin's offense is better than it was a year ago and that's a credit to Tolzien. UW's entire offense has not had a turnover in the last four games (first time that's happened since 1988) and the Badgers are coming off a crisp 6-for-6 red-zone performance against Minnesota. Tolzien admitted that he wants another shot at Ohio State, but said in the same breath that he's ready for another chance to compete against anybody with his UW career winding down.

Is the receiving corps back to full strength now? 

Worgull: Finally, UW looks to be injury free at the receiver position. Nick Toon returned from a turf toe injury against Michigan State, but finally looked healthy against Minnesota, catching a season-high six catches for 52 yards. Other than tight end Lance Kendricks, Toon is the top receiving threat in UW's offense, and the Badgers realized that the more weapons the better against the conference's better teams.

David Gilreath also returned against Michigan State after suffering a scary concussion against San Jose State, being carted off the field in an ambulance. Gilreath's role is still up in the air. Returning both kicks and punts before the injury, Gilreath has only been on kick return and UW coach Bret Bielema has yet to give an indication of who will be returning on Saturday.

The Badgers and Buckeyes both had some early season problems with covering kickoffs. Jim Tressel is happy with the improvement of his coverage units over the last couple of weeks. How are the Wisconsin units coming along?  

Worgull: Slow and unfortunately, slow and steady doesn't win the race. So desperate to improve kickoff coverage that the Badgers tried two sky kicks after the coaching staff noticed the Gophers used a lineman in their target area. Those two kicks resulted in the Gophers started at the 30 and 25-yard line. It wouldn't be a game though without the Badgers allowing a long kick return.

UW surrendered a 47-yard return by Troy Stoudermire on a kick that was two yards deep into the end zone. In six games, Wisconsin has allowed four returns to go for over 40 yards. With no special team's coach on its roster, the units will be a work in progress. Ohio State has a distinct advantage over Wisconsin in this area and the Badgers' recognize that, meaning they will have to be near perfect in their assignments to keep Pryor and company from starting in outstanding field position.

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