Anthony Davis, Wisconsin's star tailback who returned to practice for the first time in three weeks Monday, was coy to answer the query, "will you start this week?", when he met with the reporters Tuesday.
"I'm not sure," Davis said jokingly. "We've got a new secret weapon in there. We've got one of the lineman that might suit up at tailback this week. Watch out."
Before Badger fans, and Wisconsin's opponents, get images of someone like guards Dan Buenning and Jonathan Clinkscale running the option, it should be noted that Davis will indeed start this Saturday against Illinois, according to offensive coordinator Brian White, and, with luck, Wisconsin's tailback corps will stay healthy enough to keep the 300-plus-pounders on the line of scrimmage.
Davis, though, is not likely to check into Saturday's game at 100 percent from a game acclimation standpoint. His vision, impaired by an orbital bone fracture that kept him out of the last three-and-a-half games, has returned to normal. But he is rusty.
"How much he'll play will be a function of conditioning and a variety of factors," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We have to be smart with that because the reason why you have camp and games is to simulate what you're about to do and he hasn't been able to do that for three-and-a-half weeks. It would be foolish for us to think that… he's going to be right back at the position he was where he left off."
Davis left off running for 78 yards on 13 carries in less than one half of football. Since then, a cadre of runners have filled in for him and Wisconsin's offense has ground nearly to a halt: In the past three games the Badgers' offense has managed just 32 points. Wisconsin is currently ranked No. 97 in the nation in the total offense (304.5 yards per game), 105th in passing offense (141.75), 54th in rushing offense (162.75) and 93rd in scoring offense (19.25).
The return of Wisconsin's best offensive player should improve matters. But it is not necessarily a cure-all.
"First of all, I'm very happy that Anthony's back. But to all of a sudden think that he's just going to be the solution to our problems, that's ridiculous," White said. "We've got a lot of things that we need to improve on. He's going to help and he's going to contribute and he's going to improve us but we have a lot of work in other areas that needs to be addressed."
"To put so much focus on me coming back, I'm not really sure how I feel about that," Davis said. "I'm glad to be back and I'm quite sure the guys are glad I'm coming back but one man doesn't make an offense. One man can make an offense better but it doesn't make an offense."
"The thing that I just want to make sure I don't do is try to press…Just get out there and play my game and I think good things will happen," Davis said.
Wisconsin is hoping, however, that Davis' return provides a much-needed boost.
"I think with AD back it will be more of a jumpstart," fullback Matt Bernstein said. "Something our offense really needs is a jumpstart. I think AD does it. He's our leader. Everyone looks up to him. He's the man and once he's back I think everyone is going to pick it up more. That's just something that we have to do."
Wisconsin may enter Saturday's game with few options behind Davis. Second string tailback Booker Stanley is questionable with a turf toe injury and third-teamer Jamil Walker is out due to a shoulder ailment. That leaves Bernstein and true freshman Chris Pressley as Davis' definite reserves.
Bernstein ran for 123 yards on 27 carries in Saturday's win over Penn State, with 26 carries and 120 yards coming after he switched from fullback to tailback at halftime.
"I would say that Matt certainly showed that he deserves to be playing some tailback if something happens to Anthony, but we're going to have to find out where Book's at," White said. "Book's still banged up and Jamil's out, so we've got to keep working with Chris Pressley and developing him."
The solution to Wisconsin's offensive woes?
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