Ornery Badgers fired up after disappointment in '08


POSTED: Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bret Bielema set the bar pretty high to start out.

After helping Wisconsin go 19-6 in two years as defensive coordinator, Bielema took over for Barry Alvarez in 2006 and promptly led the Badgers to a 12-1 season while just missing out on the Big Ten title.

He followed with a 9-4 year and the program's fifth straight appearance in a New Year's Day bowl game.

So last year's 7-6 campaign — which ended with a 42-13 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl — while not exactly disastrous, rated as a letdown in Madison.

“;Every year you're doing those things, you just assume it's going to happen. And when it doesn't, reality hits you in the face, and it allows you to kind of wake up a little bit and realize that edge that you have to play with,”; Bielema said during Wisconsin's media day last month.

The Badgers open the season Saturday against Northern Illinois to start a stretch of four consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium.

Scott Tolzien will make his first start at quarterback, after beating out freshman Curt Phillips and senior Dustin Scherer, last year's starter, for the job. Tolzien, a junior, played in three games last season and attempted eight passes.





        Tomorrow Central Arkansas

        Sept. 12 at Washington St.*

        Sept. 19 at UNLV

        Sept. 30 at Louisiana Tech

        Oct. 10 Fresno State

        Oct. 17 at Idaho

        Oct. 24 Boise State

        Oct. 31 at Nevada

        Nov. 7 Utah State

        Nov. 14 New Mexico State

        Nov. 21 at San Jose State

        Nov. 28 Navy

        Dec. 5 Wisconsin

        *-at Qwest Field in Seattle

One of Tolzien's primary duties in managing the offense figures to be handing the ball to a deep group of running backs led by John Clay and Zach Brown.

Clay ran for 884 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago while backing up P.J. Hill, who powered the Big Ten's top rushing attack last year before entering the NFL Draft. Brown ran for 305 yards and three scores. Freshman Montee Ball could also contribute this season.

They'll run behind an offensive line expected to start three juniors and two sophomores this week and lacking a senior on the two-deep. Injuries limited returning starters Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt and junior Bill Nagy during fall camp.

Tight end Garrett Graham could be one of Tolzien's top targets after leading the Badgers with 540 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

The defense returns five starters, including linebacker Jaevery McFadden and defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

McFadden led the Badgers with 84 stops last season while Schofield's five sacks tied for the team lead.

Reversing their turnover ratio of last year will be a key for the Badgers, who lost possession 30 times (19 fumbles, 11 interceptions) while forcing 22 takeaways to finish 10th in the conference in that category.