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Badger Rewind: Players' preparation pays off in light of injuries


Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider
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Varsity Magazine

Sept. 23, 2013


MADISON, Wis. -- There may not be a better spokesperson on the benefits of staying ready while waiting your turn than Wisconsin senior James White.

Although he has started only four times at tailback during his 43-game career, White has rushed for 3,013 yards; more than any active player in the FBS.

Up until this season, White has been the “Next Tailback Up” in the rotation; an understudy and complementary asset to the likes of John Clay and Montee Ball.

White has made it work because he has always been ready when his No. 20 has been called.

Outside linebacker Vince Biegel, tight end Sam Arneson and center Dan Voltz found themselves in a similar position during Saturday’s 41-10 win over Purdue in the Big Ten opener.

When called upon, all three had to replace injured starters with little or no advance warning.

“It’s something we stress all the time,” White said of the standard “Next Man In” theme. “You never know when somebody is going to go down.

“If you’re a backup you have to practice like you’re a starter because, when the opportunity comes, we’re going to be expecting you to go out there and make plays like a starter does.”

Consider Exhibit A. Make that Exhibit B for Biegel, a sophomore from Wisconsin Rapids.

Kelly, a 17-game starter, tweaked his hamstring late in the week. He was in uniform Saturday and took part in some of the pregame warm-ups at Camp Randall Stadium.

“But he wasn’t feeling 100 percent and Coach (Gary Andersen) gave me the nod,” said Biegel, who had four tackles, including two on special teams, through three games. “I was prepared and ready to go.”

Biegel made sure Andersen knew how he felt, too.

“He came up to me before the game and said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go,’” related Andersen, who was obviously impressed with the initiative. “He didn’t look starry-eyed and was into the moment.”

In his first career start, Biegel got his first career sack.

On back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, Biegel dropped Purdue’s Rob Henry for a loss of 5 yards on second down and got credited with a hurry on third down.

“You never know when your time is going to come,” Biegel said. “I did some good things and I did some bad things. I have to take it all in and learn from it.”

As a defense, the Badgers had four quarterback sacks and seven hurries. Henry, who often appeared rattled by the pressure, completed just 18 of 36 passes for 135 yards.

“It was good to get out there and get some live game reps,” said the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Biegel. “I did some good things and I did some bad things. I have to take it all in and learn from it.”

Kelly, a sixth-year senior, and Ethan Armstrong, a fifth-year senior, have been instrumental, Biegel said, in making sure he has been getting the most out of practices in preparation to play.

“This will be a good learning tool for Vince because he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities,” Andersen said. “BK (Brendan Kelly) has taken all the reps.

“There’s some good and bad in there (Biegel’s performance). I know this, he played extremely hard. I didn’t see a lot of blown assignments from him. Again, he was ready for that moment.”

Preparedness has been drilled into the players since last spring.

“You never know when your time is going to come,” Biegel said. “They always stress that.”

The storyline is a little different for Arneson, a 6-4, 254-pound junior from Merrill, Wis. The Badgers frequently employ “13” personnel: one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver.

In this grouping, Arneson has been the third tight end with Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pedersen. Because there is so much value in versatility, he has learned each of the different assignments.

When Pedersen left Saturday’s game with an injury, Arneson took over his spot. Brock DeCicco, in turn, filled Arneson’s role whenever the Badgers went with 13 personnel against the Boilermakers.

“It’s not really a big deal; we’ve gotten a lot of reps, so we’re comfortable doing it,” said DeCicco, a fifth-year senior from Jefferson Hills, Pa. “We’ve got depth; we were ready for it.”

Arneson didn’t catch any passes but he threw some key blocks to spring the tailbacks. The Badgers rushed for 388 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 8.1 yards per carry.

“I don’t think we missed a beat on offense, which was positive,” said Arneson.

It was not by chance that the various pieces to the puzzle fit together so nicely.

“That’s what we’ve been prepared for,” Arneson said. “That’s why we’ve always talked about having depth and everyone being able to play different spots. It was great showing our versatility.

“It was a little different because I don’t play Ped’s (Pedersen’s) spot that much. Ped is Ped and he plays all the time. But I feel like they’ve moved me around for whoever went down, Woz or Ped.”

Every precaution must be taken because of the nature of the game. Players are going to get injured.

“It’s part of football,” Arneson said. “I think Ped is fine; he’ll be back next week. But you have to be ready when your number is called and I think we all did a good job of stepping in and playing.”

Voltz has seen it from both ends. Going into training camp, he was the No. 1 center but lost valuable practice time -- and the starting job -- after suffering a hamstring injury.

Dallas Lewallen replaced Voltz and has started the first four games. In the second half Saturday, Lewallen was the victim of friendly fire when teammate Tyler Marz rolled up into the back of his legs.

“Obviously I didn’t know it was coming but it’s something that we prepare for every day in practice,” said Voltz, a redshirt freshman from Barrington, Ill.

“No matter what position it is, you see guys get hurt. If you’re not starting, you have to be ready to go. It happened (Saturday). It’s not something you want, but it’s the ‘Next Man In.”’

On how he handled losing his job, Voltz said, “We’re unselfish (as a team), especially on the offensive line. Obviously I’d like to play, but Dallas is doing a phenomenal job and our unit is clicking.”

Staying ready is the challenge, he said, while standing on the sidelines.

“The main thing is staying mentally focused -- knowing where you are in the game and the situation,” Voltz said. “Every down -- when you go in -- is critical. It’s more mental than physical.

“I’m not getting as many reps as the starters (in practice). But mentally you have to be on the same page with the starters. It’s a unique situation and we’re trying to make the most of it.”

The way the Badgers have been mashing opposing defenses on the ground has been a testament to maintaining the status quo, regardless of who’s carrying the ball or who’s blocking.

“They make us look good and we open holes for them,” Voltz said of White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. “It’s just a mutual thing that’s working out right now.”

The players, Voltz stressed, needed to get back to work after the Arizona State loss. They also needed to release their frustrations. Purdue just happened to be in their way.

“We kind of had a bad taste in our mouth all week,” he said. “The only thing that is going to fix that is to go out and play another team and win. We came out with attitude. That’s what we needed.”

More than anything, they needed a change of seasons from non-conference to conference.

“We were ready to get into Big Ten play -- this is what really matters,” said White. “We wanted to come out and make a statement today and for the rest of the season.”

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