UW Health Sports Medicine 

'The Voice' with Matt Lepay

With the non-conference portion of the schedule complete, Badger fans are eager for the main event to begin. Through the first four games, folks have used a couple of different terms to describe this team, such as inconsistent and resilient. Both descriptions apply.

After hanging 70 points on a desperately overmatched Austin Peay squad, there is one thing even the harshest scheduling critic should admit. After at times being accused of playing down to the competition, the Badgers did no such thing last Saturday.

As someone pointed out after the game, one could argue that last week's game created little if any interest outside the locker room. The key is the players needed to care, and they did.  Many times a game such as this can be sloppy beyond description.

The Badgers avoided sloppy play, and now they can move on to Michigan State with the hopes of being a reasonably healthy team.

In the first three games, the Badgers certainly had their ups and downs. Offensive miscues left points on the field, from turnovers in the red zone to missing on some third-and-short yardage situations.

The defense has held up reasonably well, especially with a young line, and a linebacking corps that has dealt with the loss of Chris Borland. What coordinator Dave Doeren would love to see is a defense that creates more turnovers.

Through four games, the Badgers have forced just three, and none in the last two games. For the season, the Badgers turnover margin is a minus-one, a number the coaches would love to turn into the plus category as soon as possible.

Back to the offense. Keep in mind this group has been without starting receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath. The last time I checked, those guys are pretty good.In each of the last two games, the right tackle has made his first collegiate start. Against Arizona State it was Ricky Wagner. Three days ago it was Casey Dehn.  

Also, tailback John Clay has been working to round into the form that made him last season's Big Ten offensive player of the year. Despite the angst of some fans about why Clay has not had more carries, his workload actually has been decent.

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has said there has been no real "pitch count" as to the number of carries for Clay, but in the Arizona State game, Chryst was encouraged that a couple of the tailback's strongest runs occurred in the fourth quarter.

In addition, freshman James White quickly impressed the coaching staff. If anything, the Badgers wanted to get the ball in White's hands a little more last week, and the young man from south Florida delivered in a big way.

Finally, there was no reason whatsoever for Clay to be overworked against Austin Peay.Can you imagine the outcry if Clay played deep into the second half and then got hurt?

The Badgers enter Big Ten play ranked ninth in the coaches' poll, but how good is this team? 

I believe that is still open to question. There is much to like. As head coach Bret Bielema has said, the Badgers have shown plenty of resolve. With some key players out, others have stepped in and have played well. When it appears the opponent is gaining momentum, the Badgers have had an answer. Those are all good signs.

Much like last season, the offense appears to be quite good, but now that the competition is getting better, it remains to be seen whether the Badgers can create more big plays. The addition of White and the return of Toon could be very helpful in answering that question.

On defense, no doubt teams will continue to probe the defensive backs. The secondary is showing signs of improvement, but the toughest tests are yet to come.

How good are the Badgers? Your guess is as good as mine. Right now I believe this is very good, solid football team. I am not ready to call it an elite team. Check back in a few weeks. 

The opportunity is there to make that next step.