Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badgers go back to basics

[media-credit name=’JEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photo’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]FB-at-Illinois-10.06.07-104[/media-credit]Put in an unfamiliar position after last weekend’s loss, the Badgers are going back to the basics.

Although the season is now nearly seven weeks old, Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) is focusing on fundamentals, namely tackling, as it prepares for Saturday’s game at Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten).

"We’ve doubled our efforts," UW defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said. "The last three weeks we’ve been doing extra tackling drills, and we’ve done more of them this week, and we’re going to keep doing them until we get better.


"If we have to double it again next week to see more improvement, we will."

Wisconsin has practiced well all week, pleasing the coaching staff, but if what is worked on in practice doesn’t carry over into Saturday, the positive workouts won’t mean a thing.

"They’ve responded and done everything we’ve asked them to do; we’ve been tackling better in practice — we’ve got to carry it over to Penn State now," Hankwitz said.

Strong practices haven’t carried over to games in weeks past.

"I think that’s the problem of players without a lot of experience; they give up a big play once, and it can happen again — big plays are contagious," UW head coach Bret Bielema said.

Big plays have killed Wisconsin in recent weeks. Two weeks ago against Michigan State, the defense allowed three plays go for 53 yards or more. Last week, Illinois had nine plays go for 20-plus yards. The defense has been addressing its inability to tackle, but the tentative play is a major concern as well.

"Guys giving up big plays get kind of scared, myself included, and become more tentative trying not to give up the big play instead of doing your responsibility," linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "Once you do your responsibility, and everybody’s doing the same thing, it’s a good place to be in."

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, which seats in excess of 100,000 frenzied fans, will prove to be a hostile environment.

"Outside of Camp Randall, that’s probably the best place I’ve been," Levy said.

Aside from wide receivers Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard — it will be interesting to see how freshmen David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson respond in the starting receiver roles — the Badgers will bring a relatively healthy roster to Happy Valley.

Running back P.J. Hill is full-go after sustaining a slight groin pull last week that hindered him for parts of the game at Illinois and limited him to a season-low 21 carries. So expect Wisconsin to go back to its traditional offense — pounding the football between the tackles.

Certainly improved from a year ago, Penn State will also rely on its ground attack and Rodney Kinlaw. The senior rushed for a career-high 168 yards along with two touchdowns in helping the Nittany Lions out-rush the Hawkeyes 256 to 46.

"I think they’re running the ball better this year so (quarterback Anthony) Morelli hasn’t had to shoulder as much of the load at times compared to a year ago, so they’re there offensively," Hankwitz said.

Morelli, who has been more consistent this year than in years past, still makes mistakes — he is in a three-way tie for second in interceptions in the Big Ten with six.

For a team that has struggled in the turnover game, Saturday suggests balls may bounce the Badgers’ way.

"From what they’ve done, if any game, it has to be this one," Levy said about the possibility of forcing turnovers, something Wisconsin has done a mere four times this season. "We’ve got to keep that mentality throughout the season no matter who we’re playing. (Penn State) has put some balls on the ground; the quarterback threw away some balls, and we just have to capitalize on the opportunities when they’re there."

Part of the reason why the defense has been starved of turnovers goes back to its inability to take down the ball carrier.

"The effort, guys just not making tackles — that’s where you get a lot of those opportunities, the second guy coming in and stripping the ball out — so I think if everybody’s executing, the opportunities will come," Levy said.

Despite all the attention on the defense’s struggles this season, the team still only has one loss.

Of course the loss wasn’t easy, after winning for so long. But the mood and atmosphere hasn’t changed. The team remains upbeat and is moving on.

"[Having a positive] attitude is one thing I always thought we’ve done well; we respond well," Levy said.

"We’re still a very, very good team, and we have to continue to do the things that we have done to get to where we are because if you abandon those things, you abandon the [ideals] of the program," safety Aubrey Pleasant added. "Keeping that 1-0 mentality. We lost last week; it’s done. The only thing we can change is our future."

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