Following the team’s 31-28 win over Minnesota Saturday to take home Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the sixth straight year, head coach Bret Bielema addressed the media Monday, highlighting how proud he was of the performances of running back John Clay and defensive end O’Brien Schofield.
“[Clay] really took over the game in the fourth quarter,” Bielema said. “Because of some unfortunate circumstances, it got a little closer than it needed to be, but he was the guy that really put that game in a situation that felt comfortable going into the final minutes.”
Both Clay and Schofield were awarded team MVP awards and Big Ten Player of the Week honors on the offensive and defensive ends of the ball, respectively.
The coaching staff also recognized Minnesota native and linebacker Blake Sorensen on the defensive side of the ball, who Bielema noted played well every down and made some big plays despite the adversity of facing his hometown teammates. Bielema was impressed with the team’s composure throughout the hostility associated with a road game, especially against such a historic rival.
“An official came up to me during the game and made reference to how well our players were handling the business that was going on around the place,” Bielema said. “I was well aware of friends playing against friends … and the interstate recruiting battle. … I liked the demeanor our guys displayed when having the opportunity to maybe react. Our guys, on a level of maturity and understanding of the big picture, took a big step forward.”
Wisconsin is now 5-0 and ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/Coaches’ poll, and the Badgers are one spot away from the top 25 in the AP poll. As the Badgers prepare to face Ohio State — the only other 2-0 team in Big Ten play — they now have the opportunity to get a better look at one of the conference’s top teams.
“As we get deeper into the season, we have more quality film for us to take a look at,” Bielema said. “Not only to get tendencies from a pure numbers standpoint, but to see conceptually what [the Buckeyes] are trying to do from all three phases.”
Bielema reiterated the importance of taking a look at the high-caliber athletes on both offense and defense who they will need to take into account in preparation for Ohio State — especially Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
“Big, fast, physical, smart, well-coached,” Bielema said in describing the OSU defensive line. “[Pryor] is a playmaker and as he gains more experience and more knowledge you can see the coaches giving him more and more [freedom]. Were just going to show up and see what happens.”
In addition to keeping up with Ohio State’s strong athleticism, Bielema also emphasized the team’s need to stay focused and avoid the mistakes the team managed to overcome when facing Minnesota and Michigan State.
“There’s certain things that we’ve done that we were allowed to get away with it in the Minnesota game,” Bielema said. “We were allowed to get away with it at home against Michigan State, but, you know, you go to Ohio State and play the caliber of athletes they’re going to have on the field and the playmakers that they have, that can break down.”
And despite Wisconsin’s 295 rush yards Saturday, Bielema acknowledged the team’s question marks about their backup running back.
“Bottom line is: [Clay] went out and did it,” Bielema said. “You can definitely tell by his body reaction when he’s tired too. … That’s the big thing we are trying to get a hold of right now. Who can be that guy and how do we need to use him when John Clay isn’t going.”
And though Zach Brown is still listed as the starter on the UW depth chart, he is expected to receive the third-most carries against Ohio State after his fumble Saturday led to an 88-yard recovery for a Gopher touchdown that nearly cost the Badgers the game.
“I grabbed [Brown] after the game … and I’m interested to see where he goes,” Bielema said. “I’ve also kind of referenced to him that, as coaches, [he’s] made us look for other options for us to go to until he shows us more consistency in just handling the football and being able to produce.”
In terms of the team’s reaction to the win and outlook on the rest of the season, Bielema was impressed with his team’s reaction and work ethic.
“As far as what our team likes, our team likes to work,” Bielema said. “Our team likes to gain respect rather than lose respect. I was very pleased to read what I read and hear what I saw … in reflection of every player saying, ‘We’re just going to work. We’re going to show up, do what we do, and move forward.’”
“Every one of them had a different answer,” he continued, “but a same kind of theme about working together, playing for each other, doing what we need to do and finding a way to win games. If we continue to do that, we’ll move forward.”