Northwestern-Wisconsin Preview

Bret Bielema was at Camp Randall Stadium the last time Wisconsin

won a Big Ten title, watching the Badgers’ offensive attack roll

over Iowa 41-3 in 1999 as a member of the Hawkeyes staff.

Bielema, in his fifth year as head coach at Wisconsin (10-1,

6-1), sees similarities in his offense and the one from 1999 that

featured Ron Dayne.

”I remember the way that Wisconsin played, basically imposing

their will on us,” Bielema said in his weekly news conference from

Madison. ”I think the last two weeks, I’ve been able to see that

on the field, but also on film when I watch on Sunday to realize

what was happening and the way our players are playing, but also

the reaction of our opponent. (It) is a very gratifying

experience.”

Or a humbling one for opponents.

On Saturday, the fifth-ranked Badgers face Northwestern (7-4,

3-4) with a share of the conference title at stake. They have been

on a roll since a 31-18 win over then-No. 1 Ohio State.

Wisconsin has put up 131 points and 695 yards rushing against

Indiana and Michigan and has won six straight games, scoring at

least 31 points in each to set up a chance to at least share the

Big Ten title.

The Badgers, looking for their first Rose Bowl appearance since

2000, have done it recently without reigning Big Ten offensive

player of the year John Clay, who is still recovering from a

sprained right knee suffered three weeks ago.

If Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all win on Saturday,

they’ll split the Big Ten title. The tiebreaker for the

conference’s spot in the BCS will go to the highest ranked team in

the BCS standings, which has been Wisconsin (7th) followed by Ohio

State (8th) and Michigan State (10th).

”We’re in a great position headed into Northwestern to put

ourselves right where we want to be,” defensive end J.J. Watt said

after the 48-28 win over Michigan on Saturday.

And they haven’t needed Clay in the process.

Bielema switched Clay with backups James White and Montee Ball

on the depth chart, and Clay remains questionable. The three backs

have combined for 39 rushing touchdowns.

”John really hasn’t done much. No fault of John’s. I think he

has pushed himself as hard as he can,” Bielema said. ”(We’re)

planning on just James and Montee but John, I went through the

training room this morning, he was braced up and ready to go run.

He was telling me how good it felt.”

Bielema said Clay would likely practice on Tuesday and

Wednesday.

No matter, Ball is averaging 155.6 yards rushing in his last

three games. He said preparing for the Wildcats wouldn’t change

despite the bigger implications.

”(It’s the) same thing we’ve been doing every week,” Ball said

after the game. ”Fix our mistakes, come in Tuesday ready to work

and have the 1-0 mentality.”

That 1-0 mentality has been Bielema’s overused catch phrase his

first five years as coach. He even received practice shorts

stitched with the slogan, but he hasn’t needed to repeat it much

now.

”There hasn’t ever been a talk about a jump to the championship

or anything like that,” Bielema said. ”That’s why I really

believe in what we’ve done now – just maintaining each week’s

focus.”

When Wisconsin went 12-1 in Bielema’s first year as head coach

in 2006, the Badgers’ record was push aside because they didn’t

play Ohio State and lost in an ugly game at Michigan.

Wisconsin failed to reach a BCS bowl because both the Wolverines

and Buckeyes were selected. But this Wisconsin team has a much

better resume, beating Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa in the same

season for the first time in 51 years.

”I understand everybody’s going to ask the questions,” Bielema

said. ”I know where the media attention is, but our focus in our

house, in our room is about Northwestern and the details of winning

that game.”

It only took 13 minutes to get to a question about the Wildcats.

Then it was back to the bigger topic at hand, a final query about

what a Big Ten title would mean for the program.

”Rather talk about it after the game,” the coach said. ”It’s

great to be in this position, we’ve worked very hard to get where

we are, but none of that really matters until we get through

Saturday.”

Northwestern played a key role in the Big Ten race two weeks

ago, essentially knocking then-No. 13 Iowa out of contention with a

21-17 victory over the Hawkeyes. The Wildcats, though, lost

quarterback Dan Persa to a ruptured Achilles’ in the game, and

their defense was shredded in a 48-27 loss to Illinois at Wrigley

Field on Saturday.

The Wildcats gave up 330 yards rushing to Mikel Leshoure, and

Evan Watkins, starting in place of Persa, was just 10 for 20 with

an interception for 135 yards.