Oct. 17, 2011
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- As the result of a concussion, UW wide receiver Jeff Duckworth has little recollection of the Badgers' game against South Dakota last month. "The ball came and everything went black,'' he said.
Saturday, the ball came and Duckworth caught it -- applying what he had retained from Wednesday's practice during Wisconsin's 59-7 victory over Indiana at Camp Randall Stadium.
In the absence of the injured Nick Toon -- who's expected to return this week -- Duckworth took advantage of his additional playing time in the rotation by matching his career high with three catches.
None was bigger than his first reception, either.
On third-and-9 from the UW 31, Duckworth caught a 19-yard pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to move the chains on what would be the Badgers first scoring drive.
"I ran a `Hinge' route at about 16 yards,'' said Duckworth, who backed off a couple of Indiana defensive backs to get the necessary separation on the boundary.
"I really sold the `Go' (a vertical route). It was something that I did in team practice on Wednesday and there was a carry-over. You just have to trust your techniques.''
That adds to the trust others have in your route-running -- namely Wilson.
"He's been practicing great all week; he has been playing fast,'' Wilson said of Duckworth, a redshirt sophomore from Cincinnati. "I have all the trust in the world in him and the other guys.''
You can trust Duckworth, too, when he says that first concussion can be scary.
"You're just not the same person,'' he said.
In the South Dakota game (Sept. 24), Duckworth ran a slant on the goal line with the ball and a defender arriving at the same time. Duckworth didn't catch the pass, but he caught a blow to the head.
"I remember looking up at Travis Frederick,'' he said of the UW's left offensive guard, "and that was about it. I had bad headaches afterward and it took until the end of the bye week to clear up.''
Since the start of training camp, Duckworth has been working on developing some consistency to his game, especially in terms of eliminating drops and catching the ball cleanly on a regular basis.
"By doing everything in practice you can start building that trust,'' said Duckworth. "There have been (playing) opportunities out there before; I just have to keep getting better.''
That seems to apply to everyone on this unbeaten football team; at least from the perspective that nobody ever sounds completely satisfied with what they've done, in spite of the scoreboard.
Pointing to Indiana's 223 rushing yards, UW middle linebacker Mike Taylor said, "As a defense that's kind of embarrassing. We had poor tackling and played sloppy football in the first half.''
You wouldn't know it by the halftime score: the Badgers led 38-7.
"But we gave up a lot of rushing yards and that's something we try to keep to a minimum,'' Taylor said. "At halftime, we kind of talked about who we are, and how bad we were playing.''
Taylor and his defensive teammates came to the same conclusion.
"That's just not us,'' Taylor said after Indiana's Steven Houston bolted 67-yards for a touchdown with 4:07 left in the second quarter. "Everyone locked in more and played better in the second half.''
He added the Badgers will need to play 60 minutes of mistake-free football at Michigan State.
"Their offense is very similar to ours,'' Taylor said of the Spartans. "They have a good quarterback and good running backs and the best O-line that we've seen.
"Overall, it will be the best offense we've seen so far. We're playing a power offense and we'll really get to see what we can do against the run. It's going to be a battle.''
A year ago, Wisconsin lost the Big Ten opener in East Lansing.
"We have to let everyone know that game was our bump in the road -- that kind of stopped what we had going,'' Taylor said. "It's going to be very competitive and a very big challenge.''
Reflecting on last season's experience, tailback Montee Ball said the emphasis will be on having a good week of practice leading up to their first real road trip of the season.
"We know what we're getting into this year,'' Ball said.
Kelly contributes as `next man in'
Most college football teams practice with recorded crowd noise before road games in an attempt to acclimate the offense to the inherent communication problems in hostile environments.
That will surely be the case this week in anticipation of Saturday's game at Michigan State.
Except the Badgers also practiced with crowd noise in preparation for Indiana.
For starters, the noise was for the benefit of the defense, not the offense, because some UW players had trouble communicating and hearing their calls during the last home game against Nebraska.
At times, it got so loud when the Cornhuskers walked up to the line of scrimmage and tried to snap the ball that the Badgers had trouble adjusting their defense to the formations.
The result was some busted assignments in the secondary.
Additionally, the UW coaching staff recognized that the no-huddle Hoosiers would put a premium on the defense's communication skills by spreading the field.
That's why crowd noise was blaring out of speakers last Wednesday at the McClain Facility.
"If we can do it during practice,'' said defensive end Brendan Kelly, "we can do it on game day.''
Just don't ask Kelly what he remembers from his first series against Nebraska.
"To be honest, I was in kind of a haze,'' said Kelly, who was making his first career start. "I was locked in and focused. But when I got off the field I didn't remember much about it.''
Kelly was playing for the injured David Gilbert, who broke his foot in practice the Tuesday before the Badgers faced Nebraska in the Big Ten opener. Kelly didn't have much time to get nervous.
"I can honestly say that I've been ready for that moment for awhile; hopefully there will be more to come,'' said Kelly, a redshirt junior from Eden Prairie, Minn.
"What I learned from that game is that you can play against anyone as long as you maintain your focus and fundamentals. You can't let the crowd, the noise or anything else get in your head.
"You have to act like it's a practice.''
That works in theory, if not in practice -- particularly since Kelly has missed so many practices while dealing with a string of injuries during his UW career.
By his own admission, Kelly has spent "a couple of years being hurt and a couple of years in the training room'' waiting for that moment; the opportunity to prove himself as a starter.
Kelly credited Gilbert for a psychological boost.
"I asked David, `Hey, man, do you have any tips?''' he recalled. "And he just said, `You're good enough. You're in that position (as a starter) for a reason. Go out there and do your thing.'''
That put Kelly in the right frame of mind for the Huskers. As far as his physical readiness for the Big Ten opener, he said, "I think most of the rust has been knocked off by now."
That was not the case during training camp.
"At first, it was kind of agonizing going through practice,'' said Kelly, who had been slowed by a lingering injury." I knew I could do better. And now I see it happening every day.
"The big thing is never being satisfied. That's something I try to hone in on every practice no matter what it is -- never accepting what you are, and always striving to be better.''
After the Badgers crushed Nebraska, he had 70 texts waiting for him on his cell phone.
"Just some of my boys back home,'' said Kelly, who attended Holy Angels Academy, "and some of my old teachers texting me and saying, `It's nice to see you out there; we had lost track of you.'''
Nodding and smiling in approval of what he had accomplished, Kelly said, "It's something I've been trying to do for a long. But I'm not satisfied with that one start.''
Kelly had four tackles against Indiana in his second career start Saturday.