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Ask the Badgers: How will you spend the bye week?

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PedersenWith the Wisconsin football team in the midst of the first of its two bye weeks this season, head coach Gary Andersen instructed the Badgers to step away from football for a bit this weekend. We asked a number of Badgers how they will spend their downtime for this week's issue of Varsity Magazine:

WR Jordan Fredrick:
"I'm going to relax and try to get my legs back. I don't have anything planned. It's nice being a Madison boy because I don't have to go too far to see my family. I'm going to try to relax and maybe play a quick round of golf, something relaxing that's not going to wear me out. We all have to get our bodies back, which is the biggest thing."

LB Chris Borland:
"I'm going to lay low. We've had a pretty stressful schedule for the last few weeks since camp, so it will be nice to just watch some football on Saturday and sleep in. I have to watch the Northwestern-Ohio State game, I'll watch games around the Big Ten and I have some friends that play at other schools, so hopefully their games will be on TV."

TE Jacob Pedersen:
"My brother is coming down from back home. I'm going to try to take him out and get a nice deer. He really likes to hunt, so we're going to go out, spend some time outdoors, have a good time and just relax."

WR Jared Abbrederis:
"I'm going to go home and probably go fishing and just relax in the country. It's really good to go back there and have nobody to bother you and just hang out with my family."

LB Ethan Armstrong:
"I'm going to head back home to Illinois, get my mom to cook a few meals for me and watch some TV."

QB Joel Stave:
"I don't really have any big plans. I'll probably just go home and hang out with my mom and dad for the weekend and just relax."

- Ryan Evans

The Voice: Bye brings chance for Badgers to hit reset button

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To the credit of coach Gary Andersen, he refuses to harp on the number of injuries the Badgers are dealing with right now. In last week's game at Ohio State, tight end Jacob Pedersen was hoping to play but simply was not ready. In the fourth quarter, the Badgers were without Melvin Gordon, who was on pace for a 100-yard night against a Buckeyes defense determined to stop the run.

While the coach believes the overall health of the team is pretty good, this seems to be a very good time for a bye. With some luck, most of the banged-up Badgers will be up and running in time for the Northwestern game a week from Saturday.

That would be a good thing, because in my humble opinion, the league race is far from decided.

Yes, Ohio State has the inside track for the Leaders Division crown. For Wisconsin to advance to the conference title game for the third-straight year, it would need to run the table in Big Ten play and OSU would need to lose twice.

That might be asking a lot, but it is not asking for the impossible.

Don't get me wrong. Ohio State is very good. On Saturday in Columbus, it was the better team, and the Buckeyes won fair and square. However, I am not ready to say the Buckeyes are national title good, at least not yet.

As for the Badgers, I still believe they are very good as well. Not great, but very good.

Last week's game provided the latest example of how just a handful of plays can make the difference between winning and losing. A missed opportunity in the red zone. A chance to force a turnover but not quite finishing the play. A split-second breakdown that results in a big play, or as Andersen might say, a layup. Too many penalties.

Otherwise, one can make a good argument that the game was evenly matched.

Another popular saying in sports comes to mind -- minimizing mistakes is more important than making the spectacular play.

To repeat, I want to be careful not to take anything away from coach Urban Meyer's team. It is very gifted. Braxton Miller is a much improved passer, and there is no shortage of speed on either side of the ball.

That said, the best wide receiver on the field was Jared Abbrederis, and one could make a strong case that the best linebacker was Chris Borland.

Those are just two positions, but my point is the overall gap might not be as wide as some would lead us to believe.

Logic should tell us as much. Wisconsin was error-prone, yet still had a chance to force overtime. The mistakes are obvious. What also should be obvious is the Badgers' ability to keep fighting and stay in games that otherwise could get out of hand.

If Ohio State wins out, so be it. But to this observer, the Buckeyes will have their hands full this week in Evanston (as will the Badgers when they host the Wildcats). There is another tricky game or two in OSU's future, including a late November road trip to Ann Arbor.

The Badgers missed an opportunity last weekend. The good news is there is a long way to go. While helping themselves is priority number one, it is a bit early to dismiss the possibility that the Badgers could get a little outside help along the way.

Better Know a Badger: Rob Wheelwright

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Freshman WR Robert Wheelwright came to Wisconsin this fall with quite the football pedigree. His older brother, Ernie, starred as a receiver for Minnesota from 2004-07 and his grandfather, also named Ernie, was a running back in the 1960s for the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Having grown up around football, Wheelwright is well-suited for his trial by fire at receiver as a true freshman in the Badgers' lineup, which will continue this Saturday in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, against No. 4 Ohio State.

What's it going to be like to be able to go home and play in Columbus?
"It's going to be a great experience, especially to be able to do it with a different team, with a different program, and be able to go back and try to beat my hometown team."

After growing up in Ohio, what made you decide to come to Wisconsin?
"It felt more like home here and I needed to grow up and mature on my own without having family around."

With a brother that played at Minnesota, is there any smack talk between you two now that you're a Badger?
"A little bit. He's here to support me, but when we play the Gophers he said he'd have his Wisconsin shirt on but will have his Minnesota Gophers shirt on underneath. We go back and forth like that, but he's more than likely a Wisconsin fan now."

What have you learned from your brother and grandfather and their football careers?
"I tried to learn everything that I could from them. Everything that they were good at they tried to teach me, and I tried to better myself off of their experiences in the (NFL) and in college football. I learned to take it one day at time, better myself and have a no days off mentality."

As a true freshman, what has it been like to learn and develop in front of 80,000 people every week?
"It has been a challenge, but as you go on, you have people here to help you. Your coaches and teammates are here to help you and so far that has been a great experience. They motivate me and they teach me the good values of being a great receiver."

Which teammates have you learned the most from so far?
"I've learned a lot from Jared Abbrederis, Kenzel Doe and Connor Cummins. They have all helped me in difference aspects of the game. They're all like my big mentors. They've taught be to have confidence, be consistent when I'm on the field and to play out here in front of 80,000 people like you would if it were Little League or if you were playing in front of your family and friends."

- Ryan Evans

The Voice: Relationships don't change reality of rivalry

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It has become one of the Big Ten's more entertaining rivalries, enhanced because both teams have been championship caliber of late. In fact, in the last eight years, either Wisconsin or Ohio State has won the league title.

Taking it a step further, in the last 20 years, the Buckeyes and the Badgers rank 1-2 in the conference for number of victories.

It is the mark of a true, hotly-contested series. Add to it both programs have loyal, vocal fan bases that don't seem to care for one another, and you have the makings for good theatre.

But these days, there is a little twist. Former UW coach Bret Bielema did not see eye-to-eye with OSU's Urban Meyer. In a highly-competitive business, that will happen. However, there is a much different relationship between Gary Andersen and the Buckeyes boss. 

Actually, Andersen and Meyer are good friends and former co-workers. When Meyer was the head man at Utah, Andersen was the defensive line coach. The year they were together, the Utes went 12-0.

Granted, going undefeated is a good way to get along, but both Meyer and Andresen have made it very clear there is much respect and personal admiration between the two men.

It reminds me of the relationship basketball coach Bo Ryan has enjoyed with his Ohio State counterpart, Thad Matta. (For that matter, of much lesser importance, our broadcast team gets along extremely well with the Ohio State radio crew. Knowing that, I am sure you will sleep much better tonight.)

Sure, every one of these coaches is a fierce competitor, and when the teams square off, each wants his squad to beat the daylights out of the opponent. But each is careful to make it about the players, not coach versus coach. 

So, knowing that Andersen and Meyer are buds, does that alter your view of this rivalry?  Does it lesson the hype?  Does it make it any less enjoyable?

Nah, didn't think so. It is still Ohio State. Be honest -- you don't like the Buckeyes -- and they are not fond of the Badgers.

Understandable. Think about some of the recent meetings. It was 10 years ago when Matt Schabert connected with Lee Evans for the game-winning touchdown toss at Camp Randall Stadium. Good ol' 56 Jerk. That was the name of the play, with Evans running an out and up past star defensive back Chris Gamble.

Three years ago, there was David Gilreath's opening haymaker, a 97-yard kickoff return that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Actually, the crowd had been in a frenzy for hours. The return ramped it up another notch -- or three.

Ohio State has had its moments too, especially recently. Last November Curt Phillips engineered a clutch scoring drive in the final minute of regulation, only to see the Buckeyes win in overtime. Two years ago was even worse, when a Russell Wilson-led rally was washed out by Braxton Miller's 40-yard strike to Devin Smith.

This Saturday night, I have the feeling it will be another close game. If that is the case, perhaps it is the Badgers turn to land the final blow.

Whatever happens, Andersen and Meyer will remain friends. At some point in the offseason, they likely will get together.

Friends and rivals. While not exactly a new concept, it is a change of pace in this series. 

It is just another interesting storyline in what has become a much-talked about matchup between two very good football programs, and two very good coaches.

Infographic: Badgers plow past Purdue

A graphical look at the Badgers' 41-10 win over Purdue as UW opened the Big Ten season with a victory and ran its win streak in the series to eight straight games:

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Better Know a Badger: Joe Schobert

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After graduating from Waukesha West High School, Joe Schobert was set to walk on to the North Dakota football team. That was before a breakout performance in a Wisconsin state all-star game that drew the attention of UW coaches, however. Now, the sophomore linebacker is coming off the first start of his career after making a rapid rise up the depth chart at Wisconsin.

What's it been like to go from walk-on at North Dakota to starter at UW?
"It means a lot to me to be playing for my home state team. Playing for the Badgers is what every Wisconsin kid dreams about growing up watching games every Saturday. It's crazy to think about where I could be if the opportunity to play for UW didn't present itself, and to have the chance to start last Saturday was a great feeling."

How did it feel to get the call from the Badgers saying they were interested?
"It was a little hectic at the time, as I was set to head to North Dakota, but it all worked out once everything settled down. It was a great feeling and was a big relief that I would be closer to my family and they'd be able to come watch games, even if I wasn't playing." 

You were a four-sport athlete in high school. Why did you settle on football?
"After my junior season of football, we did really well and won a state championship and I had a good year, so coaches started calling and sending letters. That was the first time I realized I could play Division I football and could achieve that if I worked hard and put time into it."

What led to your rise up the depth chart beginning in the spring?
"Unfortunately we had a number of guys get hurt during camp, and while that was unfortunate for them, it provided me with an opportunity to step up and make plays. All you have to do is make a couple of plays and the coaches will take notice and stick you in more situations. You have to keep coming in every day and working like you don't have another day and try to take advantage of every opportunity they give you."

What's it like playing in a 3-4 defense? What adjustments have you made?
"The best thing for me is the new defense since everyone is on the same level playing field, in terms of learning. Last season I came in a receiver, then a safety and eventually moved to linebacker at the start of the season, so I was always in catch-up mode. I didn't know exactly what I was doing all the time and was always trying to catch up in the playbook. This year, everyone started out on the same page and everyone was learning at the same pace. I think that really helped me."

What makes you suited to play the field-side linebacker in the 3-4 scheme?
"It's more of a hybrid safety-linebacker position. I have prior experience as a safety covering tight ends and playing in space. I'm fast enough to take the offensive tackles by surprise sometimes on speed rushes and blitzes. I also have leverage on the outside against the run. We have one read and we know what we're doing and we get to make plays off of that."

QUICK Qs WITH JOE

Facebook or Twitter?
Twitter

Favorite Meal?
Victory meal of lobster, crab or filet mignon

Favorite Athlete?
Clay Matthews

Favorite Quote?
"I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan 

Favorite Spot on Campus?
Memorial Union Terrace

Secret Talents?
Playing video games


- Ryan Evans

The Voice: Reaction reveals Badgers' true character

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Before I started writing this column, I thought maybe I should move on to another topic. The old line "The horse is dead. Get off of it," comes to mind.

Then again, as an observer I have a luxury that a coach or a player does not have -- I can hang on to a topic a bit longer.

In the aftermath of last Saturday's baffling ending in Tempe, it has been amazing to see how UW head coach Gary Andersen and his players have dealt with it. Of course fans are upset. I was ticked off. Still am. 

Yet try to imagine how they feel. The players and coaches who worked all week, and all night, at Sun Devil Stadium only to have a bungled piece of officiating deny them a chance to win the game fair and square.

Leaving the stadium that night, one could not help but be impressed by how the head coach and the players handled the media session.

I was thinking about that, and about how the officiating crew simply ran off the field, with no worries about facing questions from reporters.

What is wrong with that picture?

Look, when talking about officials, a team's radio announcer is walking a tight rope. We are all homers, right? So I'll stop there and focus on other matters.

Such as the postgame interviews. On our radio broadcast, we always interview the head coach and when possible, a player. Last Saturday night we did our usual interview with Andersen, which included a few questions about the final play. He answered the questions on point, and was a complete professional.

After thanking him, I stalled for a few moments, not sure whether we would be able to talk to a player. I then went into a rather lengthy commercial break. Just as I went into the break, our sideline reporter, Patrick Herb, informed me that Chris Borland would be available. I told Patrick to relay the message that the break would last a few minutes, and with the team wanting to get home, we would understand if Chris just wanted to move on.

Nope. Borland waited out the long break, and we had our interview. 

It may be a minor thing, but to me it is just another example of what Chris Borland is about, and what this program is about. Credibility and accountability.

Every Monday, Andersen meets with the media. As you would expect, this week's session was very well attended, and everyone was eager to hear more from the coach regarding Saturday's bizarre ending.

Perhaps he was still steaming on the inside, but on the outside, he was cool, calm and collected. He made it clear that, while the outcome of the game will not change, he wants accountability. Just as he expects from himself and his players.

As he was answering question after question, I just kept thinking to myself "This guy is good."

By the nature of our jobs, Gary Andersen and I spend a fair amount of time together. We conduct various radio interviews as well as a couple of segments on his weekly TV show. Still, I can't say we really know each other that well yet. 

However, with each passing day, I am more and more convinced the Badgers football program is not in good hands. It is in great hands.

So to the fans, go ahead and be upset about how the game ended. But I would hope you are proud of how your team, led by its coach, responded after a game ended by circumstances beyond its control.

Matt Lepay is the Voice of fhe Badgers and provides play-by-play coverage of Wisconsin football and men's basketball on the Badger Sports Network. Read "The Voice" each Thursday in Varsity, the official digital magazine of Wisconsin Athletics.

Better Know a Badger: Sam Arneson

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The tight end tradition at Wisconsin is well-documented as the Badgers have sent numerous players at that position to the NFL. UW again boasts a promising crop of tight ends this season, including junior Sam Arneson, who hopes to put his name among Wisconsin's historic list of standouts at his position. Arneson, a Merrill, Wis., native, has two catches for 17 yards this season.

Your dad, Dave Arneson, played football at Wisconsin in the 1980s. What does it mean to you to be able to follow in his footsteps and wear the Cardinal and White?
"It means a lot. Like every other kid in Wisconsin I grew up as a huge Badgers fan. With my dad being a former player and my mom having gone to school here, I grew up coming to Madison all the time. I have been going to games since I was 4 years old. I've always had the dream of being a Badger and I worked hard and was fortunate and lucky and be able to come here and follow in my father's footsteps."

What has been the highlight of your Badgers career so far?

"There have been so many cool moments that I've been fortunate to have. I've been able to be a part of two straight Big Ten championship teams. Obviously scoring a touchdown in last year's Big Ten championship game was pretty darn cool. The Rose Bowl is always a special event. Not many guys get a chance to play in a game like that, so going out there twice was very special."

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has said he feels like his has four tight ends that he is confident in. How does that level of depth at your position help the offense?
"You've seen us use three tight ends on the field at a time this season, which has been awesome. You've seen us be able to rotate guys in and out if someone is tired or nicked up or something. We have so much depth at tight end that we're all ready to step up and not miss a beat. That is great to have. We also have so much experience at the position with three fifth-year seniors and myself, a junior. Tight ends have really been a strength for our offense so far and we're going to continue to try and get better and keep building that."

Wisconsin has produced a number of NFL tight ends in recent years. It's had both blocking-type players, like Jake Byrne, and noted pass-catchers, like Owen Daniels and Lance Kendricks, latch on with NFL teams. What type of tight end do you see yourself as?
"I see myself as a mix. I wouldn't say one or the other. Somebody who was here recently and did both, like me, is Garrett Graham. That's somewhat the style that I play. They'll line me up as the Y, but they can also split me out wide. That's the key, to be versatile, that way they can use me at any time. One of my first coaches always said, 'don't limit yourself, be able to do both.' So I've really worked on being able to both block and catch passes and I think that has helped me see the field as much as I could."

What has the new coaching staff brought to the offense this season?
"The offense hasn't changed too much. We're back to, even more, stressing the details again. There is more of an emphasis on all the little things, all the time. That's what's going to make us a good team. When you're tired, focusing on the little things and making them happen is what will make us a successful team."

The defense has gotten off to a strong start this season. What challenges to they pose to the offense in practice?
"You can't get much stronger than back-to-back shutouts. We went against them all spring all fall and that defense is a son of a gun to go against. That 3-4 (formation) presents some things that you don't see that often. Most of the Big Ten teams are 4-3 teams, so you're not used to seeing it and also, we have some good players on our defense. They play hard and are well-coached, so I can see why they've been successful so far and I expect them to keep it up."

- Ryan Evans

Infographic: Badgers blast Tennessee Tech

A graphical look at the Badgers' 48-0 win over Tennessee Tech to improve to 2-0 on the season and become the first Big Ten team to record consecutive shutouts to open a season since 1963.

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Which teams are Badgers' NFL favorites?

Varsity_130905_Cover_Image.jpgWith the NFL season kicking off Thursday, this week's edition of Varsity magazine posed the question to a number of UW student-athletes: Which NFL team is your favorite?

You can read the responses in Varsity, but here are a couple from members of the UW football team that didn't make the magazine. Also be sure to check out our Badgers in the NFL page for updates on all 30 former UW players that made NFL rosters.

Bart Houston - Redshirt Freshman QB (Dublin, Calif.)
"Even though I'm from California, I'm a Green Bay Packers fan. My dad is a lifelong Packers fan and actually named me after Bryan Bartlett 'Bart' Starr. My full name is Bartlett, but I've always chosen to go by Bart."

Rob Havenstein - Junior RT (Mount Airy, Md.)
"The NFL was never really my thing. My brother really liked the Baltimore Ravens, so I cheered for anyone who was playing the Ravens. Then I came to UW and didn't have anyone to root for, so I started cheering for the Ravens again because they were winning. But don't tell anyone that. I've been telling everyone I'm a lifelong, diehard Ravens fan."

Corey Clement - Freshman RB (Glassboro, N.J.)
"It was the Philadelphia Eagles, but once my man Terrell Owens left I went with the Dallas Cowboys. But then they fell off and T.O. left, and after that my NFL fandom fell off. So, I really don't have a favorite NFL team right now."
ON WISCONSIN