MADISON - With the start of the 2009 season less than 48 hours away, it would be a fair assessment to say nobody is more excited to see the Badgers take the field than head coach Bret Bielema, especially when he has so many new moving parts to analyze.
With Wisconsin losing 20 letter winners (including 11 starters from last year's team), the Badgers were bound to have youth fill a lot of the gaps left behind. But with 71 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, nine of which are expected to start Saturday, there will be a lot of fresh faces with things to prove.
With people like quarterback Curt Phillips, running backs Montee Ball and Erik Smith and linebacker Michael Taylor all playing in their first game and sophomore cornerback Devin Smith starting for the first time, Bielema is anxious to see how their work in practice translates into a real game situation.
"I want to see how they play, how they respond," Bielema said Thursday. "I like they way they've practiced, I've like their attitude (and) the way they are going about their business."
Bielema also made light that Phillips will see some time in the first quarter (although he didn't say doing what) and that junior Zach Brown and sophomore John Clay will both be involved heavily within the offense, sharing the carries with Ball and Smith.
"I am excited to see how those guys handle it," Bielema said. "We've had discussion as coaches when guys would be spotted in. Each guy brings a certain element to the table with things they can do in certain spots."
With the only thing separating the Badgers from kickoff is a light scrimmage Friday, a night in the hotel Friday and a pre-game warm-up at the stadium Saturday morning, the anxiousness of playing against a different opponent, and starting fresh, is starting to build.
"This team is very focused," Bielema said. "The thing I emphasized to those guys, we started off the right way this year and to continue to do those same things, and they have done that. We've obviously tried to correct all those things that went wrong."
Baring something miraculous with center John Moffitt, both he and right guard Bill Nagy will miss the opener. Starting in their place with be true freshman Travis Frederick and redshirt freshman Kevin Zeitler, respectively.
While Moffitt is still working on getting his body in game form, Nagy is still coping with the after effects of his moped accident over the summer. Injuring his wrist and ankle, Nagy's wrist has fully recovered, but the tear in his ankle has been the thing that hasn't responded positively to treatment, thus dealing his time table.
"Billy is going to get a new treatment tomorrow that will hopefully accelerator his process that will get him back either next week or the week after," Bielema said. "For lack of a better team, we're going to inject some stuff right at the spot where we expect it will accelerate the process."
After the procedure, Nagy's foot will be immobilized in a boot and re-evaluated in two to three days, with the hope of the junior guard playing against Fresno State in week two.
Rewarding the Walk-ons
Keeping with the tradition of rewarding hard-working walk-on athletes with scholarships, Bielema surprised walk-on seniors Richard Kirtley, Will Hartmann, Tyler Holland and junior Nate Emanuel with a scholarship during the Badgers team meetings on Monday night.
Having seniors come up and talk about different aspects of the team and their units, Bielema asked Hartmann to speak on behalf of the special teams … and planned an additional surprise for him.
"I told (him) that I wanted him to get up and talk about some things," Bielema said. "I called his name and he was walking up and I stopped him. I said, ‘Also please welcome to the team the newest scholarship member at the University of Wisconsin.' The whole place went nuts, he got a little flustered and it's neat to see the reaction out of all four of those guys. It was very, very special."
Extra Points: Freshman wide receiver Kraig Appleton tweaked his hamstring last week, but practiced today. The coaching staff will wait and see how Appleton feels Friday before fitting him into the game plan … Freshman defensive end Brendan Kelly will miss this weekend's game with a groin injury, but worked out with the team today. Bielema expects him to be ready by Tuesday … Freshman Jon Budmayr, who will redshirt this season, is still not throwing the football after injuring his arm week one of camp. Bielema said the training staff rehab involved him doing six weeks without throwing, putting Budmayr just over three weeks into the process … Wisconsin had 5,000 freshmen at practice to learn the cheers, protocol and, most importantly, to be in the seats a half-hour before the game.
"It amazed me that the kids can come in here and know the lyrics to ‘Buttercup,'" Bielema said. "They bring them in and teach them the songs and now they are going to teach them the other stuff … the good stuff."