Killing the Bug

While the diagnosis of what is ailing the Badgers is still unknown, many members of the Wisconsin football team are starting to perk up, including sophomore J.J. Watt. Combined with senior end O'Brien Schofield, the two ends of Wisconsin's football team want to be a nasty pest to opposing offenses.

MADISON – There's nothing like a little love from mom to cure the common cold, just ask sophomore J.J. Watt.

Watt was one of at least 10 members of the University of Wisconsin football team affected with flu-like symptoms, UW officials announced Tuesday. While it's unknown if the players are infected with the H1N1 virus, also known as ‘Swine Flu,' that has spread throughout campus during the first week of classes, nobody, including Mrs. Watt, is taking any chances.

Being awoken from a nap by a text message from his mother to tell him she was outside, Watt opened the front door to see his mother, sporting a health mask, a bowl of chicken noodle soup and cleaning supplies to sterilize the house for Watt and his two roommates, running back Zach Brown and defensive end Louis Nzegwu.

"They appreciated it a lot," Watt laughed. "My mom came in looking like it was something serious and I was like, ‘Geez Mom, it's a stinking cold.' I really appreciate that from her, because she knows how important the season is to us."

A healthy Watt, who says he will be at full strength by Saturday, is critical for a defensive line that has set the bar excruciatingly high for itself.

It didn't matter that the Badgers replaced 75 percent of a line that struggled to quarantine opponents in 2008 with three first-time starters or that the defensive line was riddled with injuries that threatened their depth for the season opener. This season, the defensive line is a ‘no excuses' group.

With the line having two players inactive due to injury and two others limited with bumps and bruises, Watt, along with senior captain O'Brien Schofield, were a two-man wrecking crew against Northern Illinois, combining for 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and shared a sack on quarterback.

"(Schofield) is a high-energy guy who flies off the ball and he's a lot of fun to play with," Watt said. "We feed off each other. He gives me a lot of energy and I try to energize him."

With the duo playing approximately combined 115 snaps in the opener, the Badgers' 3-3-5 defense were stalwarts through three quarters, allowing NIU to gain just 151 yards through three quarters and score only six points. In the final quarter, however, the Huskies scored 14 points and gained 123 yards, making the game more interesting than it needed to be.

"It was important that the team stayed together, kept our energy and kept fighting through that," Schofield said. "We needed to stay focused in the fourth quarter."

The Badgers might not get a chance to recover if a mental lapse occurs this week. Fresno State, behind three returning lineman and their top four retuning running backs, carried the ball 52 times for 310 yards and five touchdowns in its 51-0 season-opening win over UC-Davis.

Junior Ryan Mathews is also back for the Bulldogs. In last season's 13-10 UW win, Matthews ran the ball 15 times for 57 yards, but it was a screen pass he took 61 yards that nearly swung the momentum away from the Badgers.

"I just think back to last year with how physical the game was," Schofield said. "It was a battle at the line of scrimmage. On offense, they have some pretty mobile offensive linemen and some two-skilled running backs. It's going to be important to keep those guys contained."

Right now, the only thing needing to be contained is this virus that has swept through the football program like a brush fire. According to Watt, the amount of trainers and nurses around the team has doubled to help players battle symptoms and overcome the adversity in their path.

One thing is for sure, Fresno State isn't going to care if the Badgers have the sniffles.

"I definitely think the team is going to be at full strength," Watt said. "Our mentality is at a high level and we're going to preserve through it. We're not going to let each other down on this team."


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