Notes: Cleaning Up the Unforced Problems

The last time Wisconsin went to East Lansing, the Badgers, and their head coach, kept shooting themselves in the foot, a sign of a sloppy, undisciplined team. Two years later, No.11 Wisconsin is bringing an entirely different squad to Michigan State, based in large part to what happened on that November Saturday.

MADISON - One slip of the tongue two years ago changed the entire outlook of the Wisconsin football program.

In what has amounted to the worst season under Head Coach Bret Bielema's watch, Wisconsin was in full control at East Lansing, up 11 points with just over nine minutes to go. Seconds later, Wisconsin was called for a delay a game penalty and Bielema, after a snide remark to a sideline official, was called for unsporstmanlike conduct to give Michigan State 20 yards on a 64-yard touchdown.

Those were two of 12 penalties called on Wisconsin that day, resulting in 121 lost yards. In comparison, Michigan State was whistled for only two penalties for 30 yards, a big factor in the Spartans scoring the game's final 12 points to win 25-24.

"The last time we went up there, we actually played pretty well, (but) did enough stupid things that took away from us getting the victory," Bielema said during his Monday Press Conference. "There was sloppiness, some unforced penalties, mine included."

The reflection on that game for Bielema can immediately after the season, a disappointing campaign that ended fittingly with a 42-13 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The results were a more concise focus on cleaning up unforced, pre-snap penalties. It got to the point where Wisconsin brought in officials for spring and fall practices to closely monitor all situations and the coaching staff in turn would punish the team with running and up-downs as enforcement.

"I am not totally different, but I am quite a bit changed in the way I handle and approach the game, react to the game," Bielema said. "Last year, there was a certain element of we just need to go out and perform what we do."

The results speak to that. A year after Wisconsin was penalized 69 times for 626 (47.4 yards per game), the Badgers have committed only 11 penalties through four games, the second-lowest mark in the country. The Badgers' 25 penalty yards per game are third fewest in the nation.

"We always harped that it's hard enough to win a football game, you can't lose it to start with," Bielema said. "You can't do things that take away your performance before you get the chance to play."

Part of that comes from experience, as well. With Wisconsin returning 18 starters on both sides of the football, the knowledge of what they can and can't do has been ingrained throughout their tenure. Against Austin Peay, Wisconsin's only penalty was a clipping penalty against Jake Byrne, who is playing for the first time in the offense. How ironic though that after the play was viewed by the league officials, it was deemed, according to Bielema, not to be a penalty.

"I really like the clean play that they have," Bielema said. "It's guys taking care of business and concentrating on the details."

Improving the Depth Chart

The release of the depth chart is always one of the talking points on Monday, but this week chart was devoid of any major movement. James White and Montee Ball are still on the No.2 line, as well as Bill Nagy slashed with Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Ricky Wagner slashed with Josh Oglesby at right tackle.

Most importantly, junior wide receiver Nick Toon, who has missed the last two games with a turf toe injury, is listed as the starting wide receiver for Saturday.

"From a health standpoint I'm very excited because probably since fall camp started this is the healthiest we've been, excluding, of course, Chris Borland," Bielema said. "All of the other guys should be back for full action. We were able to rest a few guys during the second half Saturday which was critical because there were a number of guys that we didn't know if they would be available to play in that game. For us to get those things done Saturday without them being out there was very, very big."

While Toon is expected to play, the UW medical staff is expected to evaluate David Gilreath (concussion) on Tuesday, a process Bielema expects will result in Gilreath being cleared for contact.

"He may be in green the rest of his life here at Wisconsin," Bielema said with a laugh. "No reason for him to absorb any hits or anything like that."

Reserve quarterback Curt Phillips (knee) has not been cleared to play, but Bielema believes that clearance could come within the next two weeks.

"Last night we did a normal practice and then at the end we did a live situation with our developmental (players) and some of our twos," Bielema said. "He took off on two different occasions running and looked really like Curt of old, so that was encouraging."

Most Valuable Players

After Wisconsin's 70-3 victory over Austin Peay, there were plenty of good candidates for MVP honors.

Wisconsin offensive MVP award went to true freshman James White, as his 145-yard, four-touchdown performance also garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. "I told Bradie Ewing that you can't be the MVP with two touchdowns, you have to have four," Bielema said "It was fun to see (White) grow and get those touchdowns. That was really neat for his confidence."

The special teams MVP went to Kyle Zuleger while Aaron Henry was tabbed the defensive MVP.

"He probably played two complete games back-to-back," Bielema said of Henry.

The Badgers also named true freshman quarterback Joe Brennan the Offensive Scout Team MVP and Frank Tamakloe the Defensive Scout Team MVP.

"He really had a nice week for us," Bielema said of Brennan. "Really, during the past couple of weeks he's really grown into his own … Frank is a player who is really exciting. He's a guy that I think down the road could be a pretty good safety for us."

More on Ewing

After Wisconsin surprised most by starting Ryan Groy at fullback for the season opener at UNLV, it appears the role has become Ewing's for the taking. The junior from Richland Center two touchdown performance signaled his importance within the offense after being limited to special teams duty last season.

"Bradie is playing exceptional," Bielema said. "Now in his second year as a fullback, he understands what were asking him to do and how to do it. He's playing with a little big of anger to him, which is good. The carries he got remind you of the days back to Bill Rentmeester."

Although Groy didn't see time in the role, the possibly is there for the redshirt freshman from Middleton to return to that position, especially entering Big Ten play.

"Last week, Ryan...we wanted him to rep the whole week at offensive line," Bielema said. "This week and going forward we'll do a little bit with him back at fullback, get back to what we were doing before."

Final Thought

On tonight's Monday Night Football Game

"I do know it was prevalent on Sunday. Nate Tice's father Mike is the offensive line coach for the Bears. I do know there are plenty of Packer fans on my team. I was hinting to Tice if he had any side wagers with any of the guys. It was just kind of fun because Jay Valai is an obnoxiously outspoken Cowboys fan and when we let the seniors introduce the freshman the first week Jay got up and said something right away about the Cowboys. He got booed. Then Lance Kendricks stood up and threw the Packers right back at him. I am sure there is some little jousting going on with that one."

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