We hit BadgerNation.com publisher Ben Worgull with five key questions. Check out his answers below.
1. Generally speaking, how has this program been different under Gary Andersen than it was under Bret Bielema or even Barry Alvarez?
The program has a more we before me feel to it than it did under the Bielema tenure. Don't get me wrong, Bielema was certainly a players' coach, but it felt at times that he craved the spotlight and the attention more than he should have. Not only does Andersen treat each individual player like his own son, he has shied away from anybody putting the spotlight on him and pushed the focus directly on his players. He's coined the phrase Players make plays, players win games, and that's entirely true.
He's also handled some adverse situations very well, and probably much differently than Bielema, or even Alvarez, would have. When Wisconsin got hosed out in the desert against Arizona State because of an officiating error that was later acknowledged by the Pac-12, Andersen, while fuming at the postgame press conference and two days later at his regular Monday press conference, still maintained a level of calculated composure when answering challenging questions. As he said, there's nothing the team could do about it after the fact except use it as motivation.
The other situation is the Badgers ranking in the BCS. While Wisconsin has proven to be a very good football team, Andersen never went out of his way to publicly campaign for voters to take a closer look at his team when UW was unranked in the first BCS poll and made slow inclines thereafter before making big jumps the past two weeks. He was a big believer that if Wisconsin took care of its business on the field, the team would be rewarded. With two weeks to go until the final rankings, it appears Wisconsin is going to get that chance barring an Ohio State loss in the Big Ten championship game.
For everyone involved, he's definitely been a breath of fresh air.
2. Has the strong play of the Wisconsin defense been more about the 3-4 scheme or the team's significant talent on that side of the ball?
I think it's a combination of both. Wisconsin has 26 seniors on its roster, eight of whom are in the two-deep at the front seven. The Badgers have an All-American at linebacker in Chris Borland, who is eight tackles away from a third straight 100-tackle season, and a lot of really talented pieces around him. A lot of credit has to go to the defensive line, as that group had to go through the most change on and off the field with UW switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
The moves have paid off and that work by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda cannot be ignored. Nominated for the Broyles Award as the top assistant in the country, Aranda has been referred to as a mad scientist on more than one occasion, choosing to look at each week like a science experiment. The 3-4 has allowed the linebackers to have more freedom to make plays, disguise more pressures and frustrate a lot of offenses. Over the last three Big Ten games, Wisconsin hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown.
3. Joel Stave missed the Penn State game last season. There is a lot of focus on Wisconsin's talented running backs and receiver Jared Abbrederis. But how important has Stave been to the team's offensive success?
Stave's play has been a factor but has not been the biggest factor to why Wisconsin's offense has been so successful this season. Wisconsin is 34 rushing yards away from breaking the school record of 3,309 set last season (in 14 games) and is on pace to set school records for total offense (489.3 yards per game) and rushing offense (297.8 yards per game). Tailbacks James White and Melvin Gordon have a lot to do with that, as both have been playing at an extremely high level.
On the other hand, UW had great backs last season -- White and Gordon were joined by Montee Ball -- but the Badgers went 8-6 based on the fact that the quarterback position was a revolving door for much of the season. Danny O'Brien, who has since transferred, started the first three games, Stave started the next six and Curt Phillips, a sixth-year senior this year, started the final five.
While his numbers won't wow people most games and he gets criticized constantly by a minority of the fan base, Stave is third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 141.6 and third in completion percentage at 63.0 percent. He's thrown his fair share of interceptions -- nine in 11 games -- and had some poor halves (44 passing yards in the first half last week), but always seems to bounce back and deliver a big throw or engineer a big drive when UW needs him to.
4. Who is the most underrated player on the Badgers' roster?
From an offensive perspective, I am going with Wisconsin's offensive line. You don't put up the kind of offensive numbers Wisconsin has this season without a good unit in the trenches, and that's what this unit has been despite not having that super stud lineman like they've had in past years (UW starts only one senior with left guard Ryan Groy). The unit plays really well together and has been fairly consistent with only 12 sacks given up on the season.
Defensively, Sojourn Shelton might not be well known outside of the state of Wisconsin now, but certainly has the potential to be by the time his career is over. A true freshman who enrolled for spring football this season, Shelton leads the team with four interceptions and is fearless, has a short memory and plays aggressive. Coming from Plantation High in Florida, Shelton has that South Florida swagger that so many defensive backs have coming out of that region, probably because they grew up watching Deion Sanders play. Shelton has had some coverage busts this season, but generally plays strong and is UW's best defender in the secondary.
5. If Wisconsin has an Achilles' heel that can be exposed by a 23-point underdog, what is it?
Wisconsin has put up some good point totals the last few weeks, but those totals could easily have been higher if only Wisconsin could finish drives. Against Indiana, the Badgers had three drives stalls inside the 18-yard line. Last week, the Badgers had three drives stall inside the 20. The one silver lining is that UW converted field goals on five of those drives, but not finishing drives is something the UW offensive players have talked about in the last two post-games as something they need to correct in the final two games of the season.