COLLEGE PARK, MD – The last time the University of Wisconsin had a week off of football, the Memorial Terrace was open, the leaves were still on the trees and the summer heat was still beating down on campus.
After four weeks of fall camp followed by 10 consecutive weeks of games, the longest stretch of consecutive games since UW played the first 12 weeks in 2007, the Badgers finally get a weekend off following their 31-24 victory over Maryland to regroup for the final two weeks of the season.
“I think it’ll be great for us,” said fullback Derek Watt. “We’ve got guys that need to get back and get healthy, some guys who need to take a little time away and recover. It’s about getting your mind right for finishing the season strong.”
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) has been operating short-handed since the season started but have managed to be alone in second place in the Big Ten West, a position the program can clinch outright with a victory over Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) on Senior Day Nov.21. UW has beaten the Wildcats four consecutive times at home by an average of 30 points.
A berth in the Big Ten Championship game for the fourth time in five years seems unlikely (Iowa needs to lose two of its last three games by virtue of its 10-6 victory in Madison on Oct.3) but another double-digit win season is within reach, not to mention a prime matchup in a bowl game.
It also gives a handful of players a week to rest to increase their odds of returning to the lineup. While center Dan Voltz (knee) is done for the season, the Badgers are hopeful that tailback Corey Clement (soreness following sports hernia surgery), linebacker Chris Orr (leg) and tight ends Eric Steffes (unknown) and Austin Traylor (arm) can all rejoin the lineup, with receiver Rob Wheelwright (leg) not far behind.
“These bye weeks are important to reset yourself mentally and physically,” said receiver Alex Erickson. “Step away from the game and recharge your batteries a little bit. This team needs it. We’re going to enjoy this win and enjoy the bye week and get ready to work again.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done. UW’s running game has struggled all season long, a theme against Power Five teams. UW rushed for 209 yards against Rutgers, the only game in which Clement was healthy for four quarters. In the other six games against Power Five teams, the Badgers have averaged only 104 rushing yards.
Wisconsin’s defense could also use a break. After giving up 11 points per game and just 27 plays over 20 yards through the first nine games, UW gave up the most points it had in the Big Ten season and six 20+ yard plays, including three that went at least 40.
“We’re lucky we have a bye week so we can work on that,” said safety Tanner McEvoy.
The next week will be full of free time for Wisconsin. The Badgers will stay off the practice field today and Monday and be off Thursday through the weekend. Wisconsin will do conditioning, strength training and start Northwestern prep.
“It’ll be good for everyone,” said linebacker Jack Cichy. “We’ll have the right amount of activities. We won’t complete lose focus, but it’ll be good for the team.”