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October 01, 2010

Let's talk Wisconsin

Got some questions answered by longtime Wisconsin beat writer Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

    * With David Gilreath and Nick Toon expected back this week, how much does that bolster Wisconsin's offense? How much have they been missed (excluding Austin Peay, of course)?

    "Toon is the bigger playmaker at WR than Gilreath, though Gilreath had a great camp and clearly was healthy this season. Gilreath battled foot problems (stress fractures) all last season and didn't have burst to get in and out of his breaks and gain separation. Toon gives them a legit No. 1 threat that most teams can't cover with a single DB. That generally means more room for WR Isaac Anderson, Gilreath, TE Lance Kendricks. It also gives quarterback Scott Tolzien a securtity blanket. He is, if I may sound like a coach, on the same page with Toon and Kendricks. He is a better QB with Toon on the field. And we haven't even addressed the running game. With Toon/Gilreath back it should mean fewer defenders in the box."

    * Has Bret Bielema earned the full embrace from Badgers fans yet? It seemed like he was hearing some complaints entering last season but now has things rolling again.

    "For the most part, yes. There remains a small group of fans who don't like the guy personally. He is arrogant and it rubs folks the wrong way. I guarantee if UW loses to OSU/Iowa again this season or winds up in Tampa for the Outback Bowl those fans will be calling for his head. Most reporters who cover the team see a relatively young coach who has matured significantly since the slide in 2007-'08. His teams are more disciplined on and off the field. This team, no matter how it finishes, reminds me of the 2009 team in that it has great leaders and a tremendous work ethic. That wasn't the case in 2007 and '08. The talent is pretty damn good in certain areas, too."

    * What does the loss of Chris Borland do to Wisconsin's defense? Does it change your thoughts on this team's upside?

    "No doubt it hurts, but more in the 3-3-5 than the base defense. As many plays as Borland made in 2009 people forget he never played LB in high school and was't a starter. He only moved into the starting lineup after Mike Taylor went down with an ACL in Week 7 vs. Iowa. If Taylor had stayed healthy he might have been Big Ten freshman of the year. He is slowly rounding back into form. If they can keep Taylor, Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean healthy they'll be OK at LB. In the 3-3-5 they're now using reserve end David Gilbert in Borland's spot. If he can make some plays in that scheme the loss should at least be minimized."

    * Speaking of upside, I picked Wisconsin to go 7-1 in the Big Ten and share the title with Ohio State. Am I crazy?

    "No. I picked them to go 7-1, with the loss coming at Iowa. Now I might see them at 6-2 if they mess up but it's still a team with lots of potential."

    * The Badgers have had some well-chronicled special teams issues. Aberrations or a chronic concern?

    "They revamped the special teams coaching this season, splitting the four main units among three coaches. A change needed to be made, though I still think the issues were more substandard personnel. Anyway, the punter (Nortman) and kicker (Welch) have been very good to date. They have two decent guys on punt returns (Jared Abbrederis, a walk-on WR) and Aaron Henry (No. 1 free safety). The kickoff returns are middling. The kickoff-coverage unit had a bad day vs. Arizona State. They're confident they have the issues addressed but are wary of Martin (on kickoffs and punts)."

    * Where would you rate the backfield threesome of Clay, Ball and White in recent Wisconsin history? It seems like one of the best groups this program has had, but I know that's a bold statement.

    "I think this is the deepest they've been at TB since about 2003 when they had Anthony Davis, Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley. That group never reached its potential because Davis broke down with injuries, Smith had to quit football (heart ailment) and Stanley ran into legal issues. Clay is good but has been working his butt into shape to this point because he gained too much weight in the off-season after undergoing two ankle surgeries. White is a nice looking frosh whose quickness offers a nice complement to Clay's brawn and Ball is talented but has been inconsistent. As much hype as Clay gets, however, I'd still rate Brian Calhoun (2005) over him in a heartbeat."

    Thanks, Jeff.  Bottom line: Saturday is going to be fun.

    Here's this week's argument, a video chat (thanks to Chris Solari for stepping in when I wasn't quite up to par), and here are some notes, starting with a look at two QBs who share similar talents and tendencies to be overlooked. Potrykus checks in with Wisconsin's ends, and the Wisconsin State Journal and ESPN's Adam Rittenberg both take a look at the John Clay-Greg Jones matchup, here and here.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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