Notes: Born to Run

Going against a rushing defense that gave up 39 rushing touchdowns last season, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is anxious to get his four running backs work against UNLV, especially Montee Ball and James White in the first half on Thursday.

MADISON - Through his five previous five seasons as a head football coach, the surprises have become less and less for Bret Bielema in a season opener.

Having a set idea of what he's trying to see (how guys react to game adversity, how the group reacts to tough situations, making sure players know their personal groups, etc.), Bielema is simply ready to take his 11th-ranked Wisconsin team through its first game since January 1.

"I think it's to the point where they'll be ready to hit someone else," Bielema said Tuesday. "There's been a lot of Wisconsin vs. Wisconsin. Ever since we started the strict UNLV prep, it's gotten a little more intense with the scouts and stuff. I think they are anxious to play.

The positive thing for Bielema is that he'll get a good sense of what his running game is capable of from the very first series. Going against a UNLV's defense that finished 116th nationally against the run (222.7 yards per game, 39 TDs) last season, expect the Badgers to rotate through their deep running backs unit. Bielema expects junior Montee Ball and freshman James White to get the majority of the first-half carries.

"We would sure like to get those guys rolling," Bielema said. "I am very excited to get both of those guys (going)."

Jeff Lewis also might get some carries against the Running Rebels. Bielema said Lewis is wearing a small protective cast on his thumb underneath his glove that hasn't affected his ball security.

"Pure speed wise, Jeff Lewis might be the fastest of the ground," Bielema said.

After Lewis, expect true freshman Melvin Gordon to get his first opportunities in a Wisconsin uniform.

"Melvin probably has the most juice out of all four of them," Bielema said. "I really like the options we have."

Receiver Depth

Also from the infirmary, Manasseh Garner (hernia surgery) continues to make progress but is doubtful for the UNLV game. So with the third receiver spot open, it would naturally be assumed that either Jeff Duckworth (the most experience player on the roster after the starters) of Kenzel Doe (the most experience true freshman on the roster) would get the opportunity.

Since camp closed to the media, however, it appears true freshman Fred Willis has emerged from the pack.

"I think the three main receivers right now, obviously Nick (Toon) and (Jared Abbrederis), but a guy that has really come on is Fred Willis," Bielema said. "He's really come on late and has done a nice job. From a playing standpoint, we're probably playing more Fred Willis and not Jordan Fredrick. The high end scale with Jordan and are other freshman are off the charts. I don't know we've ever brought in a group of receivers as talented as those three guys."

Bielema said Willis is extremely fast and big, and has benefited from the small, structured routine at tiny Brookfield Academy.

"The thing I think Freddy has that is natural that he is a quick learner and genetically gifted," said Bielema of Willis, who had never lifted weights in high school. "The body that he has without lifting weights … kind of freaky to think about where he'll end up."

At tight end, the Badgers will have Sherard Cadogan and Brian Wozniak (hamstring) available Thursday. Wozniak has always been on the verge of breaking into the rotation, but the redshirt sophomore has been slowed throughout his career with leg issues.

"I know he's frustrated, but he's strong," Bielema said. "I think he'd be in there a little more like Jake (Byrne at blocking tight end). (Jacob)Pedersen has been outstanding. I am really excited to see Pedersen out there and play."

French Gets the Nod

The only real injury Wisconsin is dealing with right now is at the kicking position. Redshirt freshman Kyle French will be the field-goal and PAT kicker until further notice for the Badgers, as senior Philip Welch continues to battle through an injured quadriceps in his right kicking leg.

Bielema said French kicked a 53-yard field goal in practice Tuesday, but will realistically use French from 45 yards and in.

"I would let him kick a 50-plus, like a 53 or 53, because I have seen him make it," Bielema said. "He's been a kid that I've been very impressed with. From the recruiting process to the way he's handled fall camp a year ago, the way he handled the spring and now the fall, he hasn't flinched at all. Hopefully that carries through to the game."

Lerner will handle the kickoffs and Bielema mentioned how the sophomore walk-on has changed his body for the better over the past year.

"He's really transformed from where he was a year ago through spring and summer conditioning," Bielema said. "He's totally changed his physique and his leg strength. He's been booming the ball on kickoffs."

Welch has attempted every field goal for UW the past three seasons, making 54 of 70 attempts for a career percentage of .771 that ranks second in school history. If French kicks well, Bielema said it might be hard for Welch to get his job back, but did err on the side of experience.

"Phil has done a lot of really good things and I feel bad for him," Bielema said. "I know it's a frustrating injury."

Extra Points: Offensive linemen Rob Havenstein and Casey Dehn have both recovered from their high ankle sprains and are available to play in the opener … Bielema said a couple scholarship had to be rearranged with medical situations, but there is no timetable for finalizing those decisions, which include giving scholarships out to walk-ons.

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