Notebook: Block party

Casillas gets second punt block; kicking game struggles; injury updates; 8-1 surprise?

CHAMPAIGNE, Ill. — For the second time in three weeks, the University of Wisconsin football team scored a touchdown as the direct result of a Jonathan Casillas blocked punt.

Two weeks ago at Minnesota, Casillas' game-changing play came on an all-out block call. The blocked punt was recovered in the end zone by Ben Strickland to give UW a 38-34 victory.

Saturday's punt block was less dramatic but still very important to the outcome of the game.

With UW ahead 20-10 early in the third quarter, the Badgers had a return called as Steve Weatherford set up to punt for Illinois. Casillas' job was to contain the punter with an outside rush. But Casillas was able to drive close enough to Weatherford to get his right hand up and block the ball. Weatherford recovered it, but Casillas tackled him at the Illini 8, setting up a Brian Calhoun touchdown run.

"You always have somebody force the punt," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "But he forced it and then to get a punt block when you have a return set up, that's pretty good. But he's really a good athlete."

"It was designed for me just to get pressure off the edge, kind of like a wide rush," Casillas said. "The wing… he didn't sag all the way. And I think the personal protector kind of jumped out toward me too. He over-shot me and I kind of slipped both of them. And at the last second I saw that the punter had the ball right there and I just put my hand up and he kicked it right to my hand."

Surprised with 8-1?

So here Wisconsin sits, 8-1 overall, 5-1 in the Big Ten, tied for first place in the Big Ten with two games left to play. These are the same Badgers that were picked by nearly everyone to finish in the bottom half of the league.


"I'm not surprised," tailback Brian Calhoun said. "Obviously being 8-1 is a great feat, and all of them haven't been pretty… I don't think me or anyone else on the football team is surprised at all being 8-1. Obviously we've had a lot of critics coming in. But I think we've played to our potential and we still can play a little bit better on offense."

"It doesn't surprise me because I think our kids believe it all the way through," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "We've prepared that way."

Cover your eyes

After the Illini were defeated 63-10 last week by Penn State, Alvarez was concerned that his team might under-estimate its opponent. However, he does not feel that took play this week.

"I didn't think that at all," Alvarez said. "I really didn't. I thought our guys were focused. I didn't feel that. I was hoping that they didn't read the papers here too much because it sure seemed like they were down on their kids after last week's game and I didn't want our guys to think that it was going to be easy."

Missing kicks

Wisconsin had an uncharacteristically difficult time connecting on kicks Saturday. Sophomore place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff missed his first extra-point attempt of the game, pulling it wide right.

Said Mehlhaff: "I just pulled it…. I didn't have a great warm-up. I wasn't feeling real confident out there. I just straight-up pulled it. It was a bad kick, but I was happy with the way I came back the rest of the day. I nailed my extra points through well the rest of the day and I kicked off pretty well too."

Early in the second quarter, Mehlhaff lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt with UW leading 13-7. But the snap was low and holder Ken DeBauche could not come up with it. DeBauche picked up the ball and tried to scramble with it, throwing a desperation pass deep down field. The ball landed harmlessly on the turf without a Badger in the vicinity.

When DeBauche picked up the ball, Mehlhaff ran a pass pattern.

"In that situation I'm running a wheel route," Mehlhaff said. "I was actually open for a second. The guy was trailing me. But that's a tough position for Kenny to be in. You just try to make something happen."

Extra points

Cornerback Brett Bell left the game in the second half due to a "re-aggravation of a long-time injury," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. Bell had surgery in January to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, but Bielema said he was not sure if the re-aggravation referred to Bell's knee.

"I expect him to be back," Bielema said. "Towards the end of the game, if we needed him, we could have had him in there."

Playing without Bell limited what UW could do defensively, Bielema said.

"After we lost Brett through the game, then we were obviously short a cover guy and weren't able to do the things that we anticipated being able to do," Bielema said.

Sophomore defensive tackle Justin Ostrowski did not make the trip for Wisconsin. In last week's win over Purdue, Ostrowski played for the first time this season, after suffering a knee injury early in fall training camp.

"He was really sore after that game and I think they (UW's training staff) wanted to really be cautious with him," Alvarez said.

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jason Chapman returned after injuring his ankle two weeks ago at Minnesota, but was limited and played sparingly. Chapman mostly played nose guard in the Badgers' "33" defense. He made one tackle.

"He should be full go by this coming week," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "He dressed last week and he was in position, if we needed him, he could have played. Then this week he practiced more and more but wasn't quite probably at the level that Coach Palermo felt he needed to be to get out there. I think that we'll obviously have him back more and more next week."

Junior defensive tackle Mark Gorman traveled with the Badgers and suited up Saturday but did not play. Gorman broke his foot in the offseason and has not played yet this year.

With junior middle linebacker Mark Zalewski out of the lineup with an injury, junior strong safety Joe Stellmacher filled in as a team captain.

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