Bielema expects healthier UW defense in battle for Axe

first_imgRunning back Montee Ball ran for 223 yards against Purdue, pushing him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Ball also had three touchdowns in the game, bringing his season total to 21.[/media-credit]Paul Bunyan’s Axe is finally up for grabs again.In his weekly press conference Monday, head coach Bret Bielema addressed the looming border battle with Minnesota and what it means to Wisconsin football, especially in light of the fact that the program’s standout quarterback has never played a down in the 121-year-old rivalry.“Russell [Wilson] has no idea,” Bielema said. “Saturday, when I grabbed that axe after the game, I was like, ‘Hey we’ve got to educate this guy about what this game is all about.’ It’s been a fun thing, but it’ll gain a little bit of momentum as the week goes on.”While the battle for the axe was essentially no contest in last year’s 41-23 Badger victory, Bielema expects a tough fight having to travel to Minneapolis and face a Gopher team that finally seems to have found its footing.Minnesota started out the season as a clear Big Ten bottom feeder but has shocked the conference the past two weeks by upsetting Iowa 22-21 and sticking uncomfortably close with Michigan State before losing 31-24.“Coach [Jerry] Kill has got those guys playing very, very well,” Bielema said. “To knock off Iowa two weeks ago, to play Michigan State the way they did, they’re getting better as we’ve watched the film the last couple of days. They get better every week, in all phases, on offense, defense and special teams. They’ve found some rhythm, they’ve found some playmakers that they can go to offensively and defensively … a tremendous challenge, but one that I think our kids are excited about.”In the rivalry, Bielema said he hopes to have a healthier defense.Defensive end David Gilbert, who broke his foot during practice the week before playing Nebraska, is expected to start practicing, though whether or not he will play is still undetermined.Senior safety Aaron Henry, who was carted off the field during Saturday’s 62-17 drubbing over Purdue, suffered a minor ankle sprain and is expected to play against Minnesota.Henry’s return is greatly welcomed, especially with the concern Bielema has about his secondary.“There’s been concern ever since Devin Smith went down, and I put [Cromartie] in the situation where we’re at,” Bielema said. “[Peniel Jean] was banged up for a couple of weeks; fortunately he’s back to being 100 percent. That gives me a little more reassurance.”While concern persists over a bruised secondary and a stumbling secondary, Bielema said he cannot deny the satisfaction of having a 1,000-yard rusher leading his offense.After a 223-yard, three touchdown performance, both the Badgers and the Big Ten named Montee Ball their offensive player of the week.Bielema credits Ball’s success not only to the system UW has set up for him, but ultimately the hard work he has put in with his time at Wisconsin.“I know Montee, if you sit down and talk to him about why he chose Wisconsin, it’s because we run a two-back I-formation, and he wanted to be behind a fullback and play downhill football,” Bielema said. “That got him here, but what Montee’s done since he’s been here is in his own hands. We can’t make a guy grow in a way. We can give him the support, and we can give him the program and the development phase, but Montee, the way he’s wired, has just kind of been special. … I just think Montee is so far advanced beyond Brian [Calhoun] but also other running backs that I’ve been around.”Bielema even compared Ball to New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who Bielema coached during his stint at Kansas State.“He’s just special,” Bielema said. “You see the NFL and you see different guys. Darren Sproles is a guy, when I was at Kansas State, I just loved the kid and his competitive nature. I knew he’d have success. The way he’s kind of come into that situation this year and now he’s the big time guy, it reminds me a lot of Montee’s personality, just a vibe that he can give an entire team.”last_img

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