Following Wisconsin’s convincing 35-0 victory over Oregon State Saturday that earned the Badgers their first shutout victory since 2009, UW football coach Bret Bielema emphasized the amount of depth and talent the Badgers have.
Some of the Badgers are even getting recognized by the Big Ten for their achievements. In the past two weeks, both Mike Taylor and Russell Wilson have been named Big Ten players of the week for their respective performances against OSU and UNLV.
“I thought it was interesting the Big Ten came out with Mike Taylor as their MVP, he played a good game as well, kind of like last week … [the Big Ten] gave it to Russell Wilson,” Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “It’s great to see the players getting recognized.”
Unfortunately for Bielema, UW’s depth is already being tested early in the season after multiple injuries have affected a few key starters for the Badgers. After suffering a left foot/ankle injury Saturday, cornerback Devin Smith is the newest Badger to be added to this growing list.
Still, Bielema expressed confidence in the ability of other players to step up and fill the hole Smith’s absence leaves in the defense.
“One of the good things of this [situation],” Bielema said. “[Smith] went through a two-week window during fall camp that he was kind of a limited rep guy with an abdominal strain, so [Marcus Cromartie] worked with the ones [first team] for an extended period of time.”
Bielema said after Saturday’s game that X-rays on Smith were negative, though he tweeted Sunday that the senior cornerback “looks like [he] will be out for a [sic] extended amount of time moving forward.”
Bielema believes Cromartie’s previous experience eased his transition into the game on Saturday and allowed him to fill in “extremely well” for Smith after his injury took him out of the game midway through the first quarter.
Northern Illinois facing significant adversity
Looking ahead to Saturday, the Badgers will face the Northern Illinois Huskies, a team that faced a near tragedy this preseason when linebacker Devon Butler was shot in a drive-by shooting last April.
Since then, NIU has started the 2011 season with a 1-1 record. But questions still remain as to how coaches can help their players deal with these types of off-field issues, while also trying to prepare them for the rigorous football season.
“When you’re dealing with kids aged 18 to 22, often times the most common tragedy you have to work a young man through is the death of a grandparent or someone that’s close to them,” said Bielema. “I think you [need to] rely on your own life lessons. You know, it has been well documented that I lost a sister when I was in college, so I can always go back to the trials and tribulations that I had [at Iowa] as a player. I think you just have to go back to who you are and be compassionate and realize the bigger picture of things.”
The game against NIU has also brought new uncertainty surrounding the location of the game at Soldier Field in Chicago. The site was chosen to allow extra seating, as NIU did not have a stadium large enough to support such a big event. This is nothing new to college football, as this event follows a similar contract in 2007 that led to a sold-out game between NIU and Iowa.
Yet this season, ticket sales have been slow despite initial expectations that the game would be a sellout like the Iowa game.
“I know when this thing presented itself, it was basically a carbon copy off of the contract that Iowa signed,” Bielema said. “I think the thing that is different is that prices have changed significantly, and so I think that is as big a factor as anything. I’m sure we’re probably higher ranked than Iowa was, and Northern Illinois is probably, maybe, a little better ball club than they were that year, too. It probably gets down to the finances and what people can afford or not.”