Notes: Looking to Handle Harnish

A dual-threat quarterback with the ability to run and pass, Wisconsin has refreshed its memory with Northern Illinois senior quarterback Chandler Harnish, and will count on players like Conor O'Neill to help provide stability on defense.

MADISON - Coming off its first shutout in nearly two seasons, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is hoping for the confidence his group earned on Saturday carries over into its first road test of the year. They'll need to be confident if the seventh-ranked Badgers are going to shutdown Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish.

Managing an offense that is averaging 45.5 points a game, Harnish has been the ignition switch on offense. In the season opener, Harnish for only 195 yards, but found the end zone five times in a 23-point victory, finishing with a passer rating of 225.7. In last week's last-second loss at Kansas, Harnish threw for 315 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Huskies' no-huddle offense.

Not only is Harnish a passing threat, he's savvy running the football. Having designed run plays for him, Harnish has run 11 times in each game and averaged 84.5 yards and scored four touchdowns.

"It's easy to see on the field (how he's evolved)," Bielema said Thursday. "When (Dave) first went down there and met with the team and I asked how it was with the players, he mentioned how strong of a kid he is and leadership qualities that he has. That's the part you see probably now. He's directing traffic, he understands where everyone is supposed to be, he understand the play clock, he understands where he is on the field … he's just a complete player. He reminds me a lot of Russell (Wilson) the way he handles and moves things."

With the fast-paced, no -huddle offense that Wisconsin is expecting from Northern Illinois at Solider Field, the Badgers are going to be looking in the direction of Conor O'Neill in the team's sub package to provide important reps. A converted safety and high school linebacker, O'Neill has been involved late in the Badgers' last two games, registering two tackles and a half tackle for loss.

"Conor I think will play a lot this week just because of the tempo of the game," said Bielema, citing the opportunity to get Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, two players with injury history, off the field at times. "NIU tries to snap the ball as fast as we can. The way the NCAA rules are, if they sub we have to have an opportunity to sub as well. He is going to be an important part of our sub package for us to get the right people in the right direction."

It's an ironic twist, according to Bielema, as Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was a frequent complainer about teams that would go quick on the field and do some things that were ‘borderline,' such as trying a quick snap of the football.

"Now it's flipped 100 percent," Bielema said.

The Badgers will also have to use of senior Kevin Claxton. After sitting out last week's game with a wrist injury, Claxton returned to practice and worn a green no-contact jersey the last two days. Ethan Armstrong will make his second straight start, but Claxton probably will see the field with his hand in a club.

It's certainly not a question of toughness, seeing as Claxton hurt his wrist on the opening kickoff against UNLV and played through it.

"I was very shocked," Bielema said. "Claxton is a tough kid. He came in as a DB and has continued to impress me. He's a very well-like kid. When I was counting for captain votes, he got a lot of votes. That kind of surprised me how much of an effect he has on the whole team."

With all the off-the-field attention between the coaches, however, Bielema is ready to get the game going and how his team handles the challenge.

"I was giving him some heat because he asked me to do a radio interview on Wednesday morning in Chicago," Bielema said. "They welcomed me on and the guy nailed my name and they welcomed on Dave ‘Door-een.' I was giving him a little bit of heat after that … It'll be interesting to see how everything pans out on Saturday, because I think this is the toughest challenge we've had to do (on) offense, defense and special teams. I am excited to see our guys face some adversity."

Oglesby Grinding Through

After six major knee operations, one would think senior right tackle Josh Oglesby would never be able to play at full strength. Through two games, Oglesby has proved to be a battler, having started the last two games and been able to play the majority of the time when the score has been close.

"Josh is playing extremely well," Bielema said. "I am excited for him. The NFL people coming in have made good comments about the way he's been playing. I think Josh is grinding it out. That knee is sore."

The coaching staff continues to move forward cautiously with Oglesby, limiting him on the amount of practice reps and would likely get time off with Wisconsin having its bye week after playing Nebraska on Oct.1.

A Mental Thing

In senior Philip Welch's absence, sophomore kicker Alec Lerner has filled in admirably. Although only registering one touchdown in 14 kickoffs, Lerner is averaging 62.7 yards per kick. Because the last two games have not been Big Ten officials, however, Bielema said the crews treat the game balls differently than what Lerner was used to.

Asked if that could be a mental issue with his kicker, Bielema didn't hesitate to answer yes.

"Show me a kicker that's not mental," Bielema said. "I understand it. I love to play golf and if I am playing with a club or ball I don't like, I don't play very well … Last year, Phil and Scotty (Tolzien) liked to use the same ball, which is apparently rare. I didn't know it at the time."

Extra Points: Sophomore Travis Frederick (MCL) has practiced live since Tuesday and will start at left guard on Saturday. Ryan Groy, who filled in for Frederick last week, could see action at both left and right guard … Melvin Gordon (groin) will play this week and Bielema said he hopes to pair Gordon and fellow freshman Fred Willis on kickoff returns. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and tailback James White remains the No. 1 unit.

Badger Nation Top Stories