Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Wisconsin's lucky numbers in 2010: 84, 32, 1
By ESPN.com staff
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin hopes to unlock the gate that leads to a Big Ten championship in 2010.
Badgers head coach Bret Bielema already knows the right combination.
"If 84, 32 and 1 play well," Bielema said, "we play well."
Those numbers correspond to the jerseys worn by tight end Lance Kendricks, running back John Clay and wide receiver Nick Toon, respectively. Coaches are always looking for factors that correlate to success, and Bielema has found it with those three.
When Clay rushed for 120 yards or more in 2009, Wisconsin went 8-0. When he had multiple rushing touchdowns, the Badgers went 5-0. He was held to fewer than 100 rushing yards just twice in Big Ten play, and Wisconsin lost both of those games (Ohio State, Iowa).
When Toon had four or more receptions, Wisconsin went 7-1. When he had 55 or more receiving yards, the Badgers went 6-1. Toon had a quiet performance in a loss to Iowa and didn't do much against Ohio State aside from a 33-yard reception.
Kendricks had his best statistical performance -- seven receptions, 128 receiving yards -- in Wisconsin's biggest victory, against Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin also went 6-0 in games where he caught a pass longer than 10 yards.
Bielema adds Scott Tolzien (#16) to the mix, knowing that without good quarterback play, it's tough for skill players to be at their best.
"Scotty's going to be the guy that makes it all go together," Bielema said, "but those three guys have to control the areas of their stage. Then we'll have a good chance. If they don't play well, we don't play well, especially in the run game."
Clay won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2009 and should be a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate entering the fall. Toon will contend for All-Big Ten honors, while Kendricks steps into to the featured tight end/H-back spot held by Garrett Graham the last two years and All-American Travis Beckum before that.
Wisconsin boasts the Big Ten's deepest offensive line and the type of quarterback in Tolzien that Badgers fans have waited for. If Clay, Kendricks and Toon take another step, not only with the ball in their hands but as blockers, Wisconsin should have little trouble moving the ball and putting up points.
"Guys want to get on the field, and then they realize when you're on the field, there's responsibility to being on the field," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "And then guys want to be the go-to guy. So I think Scotty, John, Lance, Nick, any of those guys, have also learned how to deal with that, being good all the time.
"And certainly none of us are there yet."