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After spending the first three seasons of his Badgers career as a running back, senior Kyle Zuleger was approached by coach Gary Andersen this spring and asked if he'd consider a move to safety to help build depth in the secondary. Zuleger has embraced his new position and has become a jack-of-all-trades for Wisconsin as a leader on special teams, including returning kickoffs.
What was your first
reaction when Coach Andersen asked if you'd move from running back to safety
"It made sense to me. I actually came to Wisconsin as a safety, so I didn't object to it too much. The switch gave me a shot to come in and make some plays, so I just went along with it."
Did the coaching
staff do anything to sell you on the move?
"They talked up the new 3-4 defense and everything that goes with it. In the new system, we play a lot of defensive backs on the field at one time. That was a really good selling point."
What was the most
difficult aspect of learning your new position?
"Just learning everything that goes into a new defense and switching your mindset from offense to defense is something that takes a little bit of a transition. But, like anything, if you're doing it everyday it naturally comes quicker and quicker."
What aspects of the
new 3-4 scheme were the hardest to pick up on?
"There wasn't one specific thing, it was more all-encompassing. It was a lot of understanding where you need to line up, where your assignment is and where your eyes need to be."
You've been returning
kickoffs recently. Is that a role that you enjoy?
"It's a lot of fun. Returning kicks in front of 90,000 people is always going to be fun."
You lead all players
in special teams tackles this season. What's the key to being an effective
special teams player?
"You have to play fast. You can't really think too much on special teams, otherwise you're beat. So you have to play fast."
A lot was made about
the youth in the secondary this season. How have you seen that group develop
and grow so far this season?
"I think a lot of guys are starting to understand the new defense more and things are starting to become second nature. There is less thinking and more reacting now. There's always cohesion that can be worked on, though. You can never be satisfied with where you are at. You have to come in everyday and work as a defense and as a unit."
What's been the
highlight of your Badger career so far?
"There are a lot of little things, like stuff in the locker room and the friendships and bonds that you make. But, the three Big Ten championships have been a great highlight."
What's your favorite
part of game day?
- Ryan Evans
I have to admit that I enjoy bye weeks. Part of it could be my naturally lazy nature, but it was fun to sit back and watch nearly 12 straight hours of college football. I took a peek at the Illinois-Nebraska game, and watched with even more interest as Indiana scored an impressive victory against Penn State.
I found myself glued to the TV during the Georgia-Tennessee game, and later took in part of the Florida-Arkansas tilt, which featured former UW assistant coaches Tim Davis and Brian White for the Gators, plus -- well, you know -- the first-year head coach of the Razorbacks and the staffers who followed Bret Bielema to Fayetteville. Since I happen to like everyone involved, I had no real rooting interest. Sorry to play the role of Switzerland here, but I am telling the truth.
Moving right along, the Northwestern-Ohio State game was as good as advertised, maybe even a bit better than the hype.
While the Buckeyes pulled out the win, the Wildcats continued to make a statement that they are no longer a cute little story. This is more than a team full of bookworms who will play a little football in their spare time.
For those who have yet to notice, it is time to state what should be obvious -- Northwestern is good. Very good. It is hard to believe that Pat Fitzgerald is in his eighth season as the head coach. The College Football Hall of Famer is just 38 years old, but if ever there is a perfect fit for a program, it is Fitzgerald and Northwestern football.
When the national pundits talk about good rivalries and crazy games, it is unlikely many will mention the Badgers and the Cats, but in the last couple of decades, there have been some wild ones between these two teams.
The gut-wrenching loss in 1996, followed by a dramatic 27-26 UW victory a year later on a Matt Davenport field goal in the closing seconds.
A Northwestern double-overtime win in 2000. A shootout in 2005, when the Wildcats outscored the Badgers 51-48. On that October afternoon, the teams combined for 1,189 yards of offense.
In 2009, a late fumble allowed Northwestern to hold off the Badgers, 33-31.
In 2010, Wisconsin erupted for 70 points in route to clinching the Big Ten championship. No close-game drama, but it was a terrific day for the Badgers as they collected the first of three straight conference titles.
Given the fact that the campuses are less than three hours apart, it is good to see these teams meet again. This often-interrupted series should be stable for the time being. Starting next season, the Badgers and Northwestern will be in the same division, so fans from both sides can hope for -- if not expect -- more wild games in the coming years.
Simply put, this is a huge game. The Wildcats still control their own destiny in the Legends Division. The Badgers need help in the Leaders, but regardless of what happens with Ohio State, the home team knows full well there is plenty of season remaining, and plenty to gain by getting back on track this weekend.
Yes, bye weeks are good. Then again, it seems like it has been a month since the Badgers last played.
During a beautiful autumn week in Madison, it is time to get back to football.
Bring on the Wildcats, and let the season resume.
- Photo Gallery: Shave to Save
Several Badgers lost their hair on Thursday in the hope of helping gain awareness for the patients battling childhood cancer at the American Family Children's Hospital.
Eight members of the UW football team put their hair in the hands of patients from the children's hospital, losing their locks in the name of advancing a cure for cancer.
In just over an hour's time, LB Ethan Armstrong, WR Lance Baretz, OL Kyle Costigan, WR Connor Cummins, OL Ryan Groy, WR Chase Hammond, LB Conor O'Neill and TE Jacob Pedersen all walked out of the locker room with new close-cropped cuts.
Here's a look at how the event -- and the hair -- went down:
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
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.
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.
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."
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Victory meal of lobster, crab or filet mignon
"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
Playing video games
- Ryan Evans