Notes: Moving Forward by Stepping Back

With the Badgers having lost back-to-back games, the bye provided Wisconsin with a great time to reflect. At 5-2, UW got healthy, a jump start on its next opponent and perspective on the successes they've had thus far and could have over the final five games of the season.

MADISON – When the Badgers take the field on Saturday, it will be nearly a month since Wisconsin last won a football game. Surprised would be the adequate adjective that struck head coach Bret Bielema demeanor when that fact was brought to his attention during his Monday news conference.

Bielema experienced a similar fate last season, as the Badgers went 42 days between conference victories, but the mood this year, according to him, is decisively different.

"I really felt that was a lot of pain (last) Sunday when they came in and Tuesday, but when we got out there and practiced, just the tempo they played with and practiced with (was good)," Bielema said. "It probably did good for all of us to get away from it a little bit on Thursday and Friday."

While players either spent the weekend at home or relaxing watching college football, Bielema and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge headed to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a recruiting trip to see three-star St. Thomas Aquinas running back James White compete.

It was on those recruiting trips where Bielema got a different sense of where his team is compared to last season.

"People would come up to me and, ‘Coach, congratulations on the start of the year,'" Bielema said. "It takes you back because you are so disappointed in the back-to-back losses that you forget that you are a 5-2 team."

According to the NCAA statistics, Wisconsin has played the 11th-toughest schedule in the country and second-toughest in the Big Ten behind Iowa. The two teams UW has lost to (Ohio State and Iowa) are a combined 14-2.

The current record of UW's opponents in its final five games, 19-19, gives the Badgers a good opportunity for a high-conference finish.

"Sometimes, it's good to be away from people that want to talk about the two losses rather than what you've done over an accumulative season," Bielema said.

Sorensen Stepping into the Fold

With the season-ending knee injury to freshman Mike Taylor, true freshman Chris Borland is expected to step into the vacant position Saturday for his first career start. But with Borland already heavily involved in all four phases of special teams as well as Wisconsin's third-down package, Bielema realizes that junior Blake Sorensen is going to be heavily counter upon, as well.

"Blake's been one of the unsung heroes," Bielema said. "He's been really the backup for all three linebacker positions since fall camp. (He's) a guy that has come with the hopes of being a starting linebacker and still might be on Saturday, depending on how he practices this week."

Having played at all seven games, Sorensen has registered 15 tackles (eight solos) and one tackle for loss while Borland has registered 22 tackles (13 solos), four tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks. The key is for Bielema to not overuse his budding star, as much as he wants to.

"He's been really productive for us in the way he's been able to come in," Bielema said. "We've had to weight and measure if he is better off as an every down starter or a guy that can continue to fill that role for us and be productive. Sometimes freshman can't handle the biggest picture, as much as I want him to be in his seventh game as a sophomore."

Carimi/Moffitt Pushing Forward

In the last two games, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien has thrown five interceptions and has been sacked 10 times, the direct result of immense pressure from two talented defensive lines. With Purdue bringing in a defensive line that has gained immense confident the last two weekends, the Badgers offensive line is in for another test.

It's a welcomed sight for juniors John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi.

It's been a tough season thus far for Moffitt, who injured himself on the last day of summer workouts and missing fall camp, negating most of the progress he made during summer workouts. Since returning, Moffitt has been moved from center to left guard and has yet to play up to his capabilities. That point was driven home when Bielema made him off limits to the media until he started to play better.

Combine his better play the last two weeks with his birthday on Thursday, Bielema is already expecting a healthy bounce back this weekend.

"I needed him to play better and he did play better against Iowa," Bielema said. "He's had a great bye-week preparation. It's been difficult for John … At the beginning of the week, I always write kids their birthday cards. One of the things I really stressed to him was I needed him to be a guy that can take the forefront and carry us through the last half of the season."

The same holds true for Carimi, who injured his knee and missed practice time during fall camp. Couple that with an injured shoulder and not practicing during the bye week, the junior left tackle is another player that is anxious to play up to his potential.

"He wants to compare himself to the best linemen in the Big Ten and he hasn't been able to be at optimal health to do that," Bielema said. "I think now he might have a better chance than ever. I am excited to see Gabe close this out because personally, it's a big challenge for him."

Appleton on the Verge

With many players getting rest to heal their bumps and bruises, Wisconsin coaches, in addition to getting a jump start on prep work against Purdue, utilized their time by developing the depth on both lines and some of the freshman specialty players like Kraig Appleton, Montee Ball and Curt Phillips.

One of those guys the Badgers are hoping to have benefit the team is Appleton, the highly-touted freshman receiver that caught everything that came his way during fall camp. Although he's been dinged up during the early parts of the season, Appleton has appeared in five games, although he has yet to have a pass thrown his direction.

The good problem the Badgers have had getting Appleton playing time is that the player in front of him – Nick Toon – has been having a solid season, leading the team in catches (29) and yards (29). Much like the Badgers did with Curt Phillips last weekend, Wisconsin coaches are going to make sure Appleton gets at least one series against Purdue.

The other problem is Wisconsin's most successful package is having two tight ends and two wide receivers on the field. With Toon and junior Isaac Anderson (22 catches, 347 yards) playing well for the Badgers, playing time is limited to the backups like Appleton.

Extra Points: Bielema announced that everybody should be back, with the exception of Mike Taylor, will be healthy for this Saturday's game … Saturday's game against the Boilermakers will be televised on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. while next Saturday's game at Indiana will be televised at 11 a.m. on the Big Ten Network … Isaac Anderson is now listed as a co-kickoff returner along with David Gilreath.

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