As the Wisconsin football team prepares for its final test before the advent of Big Ten play with a home game Saturday against Football Championship Subdivision opponent South Dakota, head coach Bret Bielema made clear that his squad’s mindset in preparation is consistent – regardless of the opponent.
“If our preparation for this week changes from [before], then we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” Bielema said Monday in his weekly press conference. “We really strive and believe … that we know how to win football games here. If it’s South Dakota, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Oregon State, it’s the same for our guys.”
Bielema also emphasized that, much like a full-time job, football is a commitment in which rewards come based on the amount of effort put in.
“If you want to put in the extra time, the success you’re going to have is winning, bowl games, NFL opportunities.” Bielema said.
Good news regarding Oglesby
Bielema noted that redshirt senior offensive tackle Josh Oglesby, who suffered a knee injury against Northern Illinois, would undergo an MRI later in the day, but had been showing “very, very positive” indications at that point.
Oglesby has experienced recurring knee problems over the course of his football career, having undergone six surgeries in the past.
Success for Toon
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Nick Toon, who recorded five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns against Northern Illinois, drew praise from Bielema, not just for his production but also for his improved mechanics and technique.
The head coach even went so far as to comment on Toon’s NFL potential.
“Nick … built his body up [at the beginning of the season],” Bielema said. “Russell [Wilson] and him obviously have a connection. They’ve been good on routes. Nick’s been really good at catching in his hands. … When the NFL scouts come in, they make the comment that all of Nick’s catches are away from his body. He catches them in his hands, and that’s really a lost art.”
It’s easy to be overlooked if one isn’t the starting quarterback, tailback or one of the wide receivers, but fullback Brady Ewing, Bielema noted, has performed very well not only at the fullback position, but in the special teams phase as well.
In addition to catching four passes for 51 yards Saturday, Ewing also has contributed as a member of the kickoff return team and a key member of the punt team as he was used to target an NIU defender who’s blocked four punts in his career.
“He’s a great leader,” Bielema said. “What we ask him to do as a fullback is good, but what he’s been able to do with the passing game is, I think, enticing to NFL people.”
Getting Borland involved in pass rush
Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, who turned in impressive performances against Oregon State and Northern Illinois with nine and 11 tackles respectively, is drawing attention from Bielema because of his potential to be a valuable asset in the pass rush.
Bielema mentioned that using Borland as a blitzing tool didn’t quite fit into the gameplan for the first two weeks of the season, but that he hopes the linebacker will continue to develop his pass rushing skills in practice for future use.
“Chris, as we all know, has a little bit of a knack to be a pass rusher and hasn’t worked it a whole lot the first two weeks because of the schemes we were seeing,” Bielema said. “Chris needs to get some time with [co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge] during practice so he can actually work on that. He’s got so much power, it’s uncanny what he can do with his abilities.”
Effectiveness of special teams
Bielema made a point to give credit to the play of his special teams, specifically its kickoff coverage. He lauded sophomore kicker Alec Lerner for his ability to pin the opponent deep with his kickoffs.
“He’s been really efficient about putting the ball deep in that right corner,” Bielema said. “It’s a very difficult kick to catch, bring it back to the middle – if you’re trying to – or bring it up that sideline with some of the hang time.”
“And even if he’s hitting line drives, we’re getting down there in coverage and covering pretty well.”
Bielema mentioned that receivers Jared Abbrederis and Nick Toon were named offensive players of the game. Linebacker Mike Taylor and defensive back Shelton Johnson were awarded defensive players of the game, and fullback Brady Ewing received special teams player of the game honors.