In a week in which the Badgers decidedly ran the ball down the throats of the Fighting Illini, it was only fitting for head coach Barry Alvarez to praise his running backs in his weekly press conference.
“I like the fact that we have three backs that have proven their game worthy,” Alvarez said. “(And) then to see Dwayne (Smith) come back this past week and have the day he did. I really thought he finished (well).”
All five of the Badger touchdowns were scored on the ground, and quarterback Jim Sorgi has no problem with a steady diet of handoffs.
“I am totally comfortable running the ball,” Sorgi said. “Because if we can run the ball like we have been the first two weeks, everything will be wide open. This is the type of team we have. I’m sure before the season is over we are going to need the passing game too, but it just seems like right now running the ball is the way to go.”
Sorgi left in the third quarter after a hard hit from Illinois defensive tackle Jeff Ruffin, which left him hobbling to the sidelines holding his ribs. Backup Matt Schabert took the field for the following series, but Sorgi showed his toughness and returned.
“There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to come back,” Sorgi said. “There was a doubt in my mind if I was going to be able to come back. As the game went on in the second half and I was able to kind of stretch and loosen up … it started to feel better.”
The defense was not as lucky. A secondary already without starting cornerback Brett Bell, out for the season with a shoulder injury, lost another key ingredient when redshirt freshman Joe Stellmacher went down in the second half with a broken leg.
“I don’t know if they’re going to have to operate on it or just put it in a cast,” Alvarez said. “I was over there yesterday and I didn’t get a report today about what they’ve decided.”
As a result, Wisconsin may have to turn to its freshmen sooner than expected.
“We’ve got to start working the freshmen in, and we have. The good thing about that is Roderick Rogers and Johnny White have been getting practice time with the twos,” Alvarez said. “Even though they haven’t had a lot of reps during a game, they’ve been getting reps during practice. Now, as we move into the season, you hope that you see progress because they’re talented. You just don’t want to put them onto the field until they’re ready. But I think they’re getting closer, and we’re going to have to use those guys.”
Alvarez is also expecting word on the condition of injured defensive lineman Erasmus James.
“We’re going to have an MRI today just to see where he is, and there’s a possibility he could run tonight (Monday),” Alvarez said. “Apparently we had to wait a specific amount of time before the doctor’s even looked at it. So we should have an update. I don’t think it’s till later this evening, so we should have an update tomorrow morning of where he is.”
One area that is still a concern for Alvarez and the Badgers is special teams.
“We had continued problems. We had one play, really, when you break it down,” Alvarez said. “You know, R.J. (Morse) drops a snap. I mean, that isn’t coaching, or that isn’t anything else, maybe lack of concentration, but other than that we covered the kicks pretty well, while we kicked them. We had one breakdown and you go back and take a look at it. We had two guys void their zones and run around. We had a couple guys run around blocks and open up a seam, but I think we can correct it. I think just what we did was the right thing … having more guys being more involved and giving one-on-one coaching, and I think we can improve that way.”