Way back on the Badgers media day, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez was asked persistently about what he would do with all of the weapons at his offense's disposal. For instance, how would the Badgers work redshirt freshmen Booker Stanley into the mix?
"My main concern is not getting Booker the ball, right now," Alvarez said on Aug. 6. "You've got a guy who has rushed for 1,500 yards two years (Anthony Davis) in a row and a sophomore (Dwayne Smith) who rushed for 550 last year and really made a big jump. Book has got to wait his turn. He will get some shots on special teams. I'm not really concerned about getting anybody enough reps or anybody enough numbers. Book will get some chances. From the line of scrimmage he will get some snaps, but he will get a lot of snaps on special teams. When he gets his opportunities he had better cash in on them."
Oh the myriad twists and turns a season can bring. Six games into the 2003 campaign, and Booker Stanley has twice carried the offense with a 119-yard performance.
"We've had the luxury of three backs playing better than you'd ever anticipate a third running back, or I would," Alvarez said during Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference. "We feel blessed to have that type of depth there because two of the last three games, our number one and number two back were out with ankle injuries, and Booker stepped in in the North Carolina game and the Penn State game. Last week, he rushed for 119 yards in the second half alone and had 119 yards against North Carolina also and really kind of took over the game. It's really gratifying to have a young player step up when called upon and you're put in that situation and have them respond like that."
No one, of course, could have anticipated that Wisconsin's top two tailbacks would both be hampered with injuries. Stanley, though, has kept the running game from missing a beat. Through six games, the Badgers top three tailbacks have rushed for 1,256 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Wisconsin may very well need to rely on Stanley again this week. Alvarez stated Monday that he did not know whether Davis or Stanley would be healthy. Then again, as quarterback Jim Sorgi said, "something would have to be seriously wrong to stop any of us from playing in this game."
"He supposedly wasn't going to play against us in 2001 and came in and played very, very well," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He's one of those gamers. He's a tough kid. He played against us this past year and did very, very well. We expect him to play. This is a huge game in the Big Ten conference and we expect him to play. He may or he may not, but we expect him to."
The Badgers, though, have the assurance that even if they turn to their third option, the running game still stands an excellent chance of competing, even against Ohio State's vaunted defense.