November 22, 2010

Primary focus is on Wildcats

MADISON - Saturday's afternoon tilt with Northwestern is setting up to be one of the classics inside Camp Randall Stadium. At the very least the 10-1 Badgers will vie for a share of the Big Ten title on senior day.

But on a day when most of the media attention focused on the fact that UW will be playing for its first Big Ten title since the 1999 season, head coach Bret Bielema made it clear his team was focused on the task at hand.

Remember, it was a Northwestern squad that ended the Badgers hopes of finishing with 10 regular season wins a year ago. Historically the Wildcats have had a good amount of success against the Badgers and there is a likelihood that they could strike again.

"They have and they can," Bielema told reporters at his weekly press conference. "The part that we have to control is how we handle our business. I think last year's game, and the tail of two halves, is something we can emphasize this year.

"They showed last year that they could line up and play toe to toe with us. They're very physical and very smart."

While the team remains focused on the task at hand, Bielema isn't na´ve enough to fully deflect any conference title talk. He realizes what Saturday's game means and what is on the line.

He also knows there are going to be questions about it strewn his way.

"I know where the media attention is," Bielema said. "Our focus in our house and in our room is on Northwestern and the details about winning that game."

John Clay update:

When thumbing through the weekly depth chart it became evident that Clay remains a work in progress. For the first time all season the junior tailback was listed behind Montee Ball and James White.

"John really hasn't done much the past two weeks," Bielema said. "That's no fault of John's because I think he's pushed himself as hard as he can. For us to move into this week and be in the constant flow of what we're doing we're just planning on James and Montee."

Considering the type of success that duo has had over the past two weeks - 665 combined rushing yards, 11 combined touchdowns - it seems as though the coaching staff is content to keep those two playing.

Clay, who has been making improvement, will likely need to have a solid week of practice without any setbacks to see action Saturday afternoon.

"When I went through the training room this morning he was braced up and ready to go run," Bielema said. "He was telling me how good it felt on Sunday. My guess is we'll probably get him involved a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday to see where he's at moving forward.

"If he's available we'd definitely like to use all three."

Kendricks named a finalist:

Lance Kendricks, UW's esteemed tight end, has been named a finalist for the Mackey award given to the nation's premier tight end. When asked about it Monday afternoon, Bielema had no shortage of words to describe how much Kendricks deserved the honor.

He also made it known that he's been actively pushing for Kendricks to come out as the winner, much like he did when Joe Thomas was up for the Outland Trophy award a few years back.

"I've gotten on the phone over the last week and tried to get on the phone with so many people," Bielema said. "Lance Kendricks, all the stuff he's done on the football field is second to none. In today's day and age with these national awards, it's the body of work from the year of the award that they're going to get the recognition. But what's this person going to be like a year from now, two years from now and three years from now? I think that came to light with the Reggie Bush thing.

"I can guarantee you this, J.J. Watt is up for awards, Lance Kendricks is up for awards, Scott Tolzien is up for awards and John Clay is up for awards. Those kids, if they win those awards, there will never be a day of embarrassment for that trophy."

Michigan game MVP's:

Both Montee Ball and James White had huge statistical days against Michigan. The duo combined for 354 yards on the ground and scored six touchdowns in the 48-28 win. But neither of those two received team MVP honors for their performance.

That distinction went to another very deserving unit.

"We gave the MVP to all five offensive linemen, two tight ends Lance Kendricks and Jake Byrne as well as our fullback Bradie Ewing," Bielema said. "Those guys really enable us to do what we did in the second half and allowed us to be able to do what we did in the second half."

Sticking with the offensive side of the ball, Bielema granted Jeff Lewis as the scout team player of the week for his performance that modeled Denard Robinson leading into the game.

"He popped in and simulated Robinson for us last week," Bielema said. "He did a really nice job emulating him."

Defensively, J.J. Watt received team MVP. Kyle Costigan won the honor for the second time this year on the defensive scout team.

Jacob Pedersen earned the distinction for his play on special teams.

Approaching the holiday:

Usually when Thanksgiving rolls around each year the Big Ten football season has concluded. Things are a little different this year.

"Monday and Tuesday should be status quo," Bielema said. "We've got classes and all that goes into it. Because they cancelled classes Thursday and Friday we'll be able to move our practice up a little earlier on Thursday."

In doing so, Bielema and the coaching staff have something planned for what should be a festive holiday dinner.

"We'll give them a little twist," Bielema said. "We're actually going to take them to Samba's on Thursday. It's an all you can eat place that they'll all love. Basically I said if a place is an hour or hour and a half away (they can) feel free to go home and enjoy some time.

"But we've got a big game on Saturday so we'll bring them in with a normal schedule on Friday. Then we'll lock them up Friday night. We'll have to talk to them and make sure they won't eat too much.

"But I think these guys going into week 12 probably know and understand what's expected to win on Saturday than ever before."

Poll position:

UW stayed steady at No. 7 in the ever-important BCS standings. With Nebraska's loss to Texas A&M, Ohio State sits right behind the Badgers at No. 8. Though the Buckeyes gained a bit of ground UW still holds a healthy margin of .540.

Should the Rose Bowl bid come down to a three-way tie among Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, the highest ranked BCS team will get the bid. So that's spot is important for UW to maintain.

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