Shelton Teams

After two shutdown games on special teams, Wisconsin's kickoff unit took a step back on Saturday. Thanks to two special plays by Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai, watching film, and making changes, became a lot easier to handle as No.11 Wisconsin prepares for Austin Peay.

MADISON – Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema doesn't worry about how his team wins as long as the Badgers find a way to get the victory.

It's an ‘every play matters' mentally that Bielema has instilled in his group and it comes from one of his favorite sayings: It's not so much what happens, it's how one reacts.

"Football is a game that is comprised of four quarters, 15 minutes each, 60 minutes of playing time," Bielema said. "But really it's 60 minutes of reaction, who reacts better to what happens."

Wisconsin did on Saturday. More specifically, Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai did, and it's a play that still is resonating with the Badgers as they prepare for their final non-conference tilt against Austin Peay on Saturday.

To review, Johnson's save came after Wisconsin's 11-play two-minute drill resulted in a Lance Kendricks touchdown and a 13-10 UW lead. With only 10 seconds remaining in the half, Philip Welch botched a squib kick and Arizona State – which already had one 97-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter – was primed for another.

Cutting through the middle of UW's wedge and with nobody in front of him, returner Kyle Middlebrooks was ready to score after he shook Dezmen Southward inside the 20. That's when Johnson made his appearance, catching him from behind and tackling the speedy return man at the one-yard line as time ran out.

"That's a touchdown," Valai said. "Shelton stopped six or seven points right there. That was the biggest play of the game … Shelton gave us the ability to live for what we did in the fourth quarter."

That play Valai eluded to was his chance to react. After Wisconsin's defense finally allowed Arizona State in the end zone after 56 minutes, Valai, on a block play called for the first time this season, burst through the line on the right side, hurdled a small pile and leaped to block the extra point and avoid overtime.

"When they scored a touchdown, it wasn't a flinch that they just scored a touchdown, it was the next opportunity to make a play and our guys capitalized on it," Bielema said. "That's a huge emphasis. That just doesn't just happen. That' from 365 days of mental and physical conditioning that our guys pride themselves on."

The optimism was increasing for Wisconsin, which had the 119th ranked kickoff unit in 2009. In two games, the Badgers were allowing only 20.1 return yards per game but the same unit that allowed Miami's Sam Shields to take a reverse on the opening kickoff over 84 yards, setting up the Hurricanes touchdown.

When the dust settled, the Badgers allowed 261 yards on five kickoff returns, a 52.2 yard average, and had an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown called back by a penalty.

"Not just special teams, but probably the best team at everything we have faced this year," Johnson said. "Their speed was a really big deal. The other two teams had speed, but I don't think they had the collective speed they did."

Considered one of the faster players on the roster, Bielema made the move to insert Shelton Johnson for Jay Valai on third downs, a decision that would help boost Valai and give Johnson some more opportunities. Last Tuesday, Bielema told Johnson not to throw it back in his face. On Saturday, the group disagreed on which play was more important.

"Probably Jay's," Johnson said. "If he didn't make that play, we're probably still playing right now. I definitely think Jay blocking that kick was a huge, huge impact on this game."

Valai begged to differ: "Shelton's just being nice - that's a touchdown. That's not one point, Shelton stopped six, seven points right there. Shelton Johnson made a great play, that's the biggest play of the game."

There's one thing the group can agree on. Austin Peay shouldn't provide too much of a problem, seeing as the group lost 25 seniors from a squad that went 4-7 last year. While this week should provide UW an opportunity to improve its kickoff numbers, Wisconsin's final non-conference tune-up will allow the unit to experiment with personnel, tidy up the loose corners and make sure it isn't a weakness when it travels to Michigan State for the conference opener.

"We've got to take everything we can from this game – the breakdowns, the mistakes and everything positive and the extra efforts," Bielema said. "It's a summation of everything that went on. We did enough good things to win this game, but we have to correct and move past anything that can prevent us from winning in the future."

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