Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Midseason review: Wisconsin
Record: 5-1 (1-1 Big Ten)
Wisconsin was expected to take the step from good to great this season, but so far the Badgers are running in place. They've been good for stretches -- the second half at UNLV, the first and third quarters against Minnesota -- but aside from destroying FCS Austin Peay, Bret Bielema's team hasn't put together a complete game. Wisconsin doesn't control its destiny in the Big Ten title chase after stumbling at Michigan State, but here's the good news: the Badgers have opportunities for signature wins the next two weeks as they host No. 1 Ohio State before visiting No. 15 Iowa. The offense still boasts tremendous potential. True freshman running back James White has been the perfect complement to superstar John Clay, and Wisconsin ranks 11th nationally in rushing offense (240.8 ypg). Quarterback Scott Tolzien has had more ups than downs and tight end Lance Kendricks is the frontrunner for the John Mackey Award. Linebacker Chris Borland's season-ending shoulder injury really hurts a defense that has some clear weaknesses, although end J.J. Watt (8.5 tackles for loss) has been fabulous in the first half. The Badgers must clean up their special-teams play in the final six games. Wisconsin still can make some noise in the Big Ten, but Bielema really needs a signature win or two to show he can take the program to the next level.
Offensive MVP, TE Lance Kendricks: Both Clay and White have been great, but Kendricks' production at the tight end spot has provided a huge lift for an offense lacking consistent play from its receivers. Kendricks became Tolzien's top target when Nick Toon and David Gilreath missed time with injuries, and he came through in a big way. The senior ranks second nationally among tight ends in receiving yards (65.2 ypg, sixth in the Big Ten) and 10th in the league in receptions (4.2 rpg).
Defensive MVP, DE J.J. Watt: The junior has filled the void left by O'Brien Schofield and turned in a huge first-half performance as the anchor of the defensive line. Watt leads the Badgers and ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (8.5), and perhaps more impressive, he leads the team in pass breakups with six, including a tipped pass that led to an interception at Michigan State. Watt also has two sacks, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He remains in the mix for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.