Penn State DT Still tests Badgers' reshuffled line
With a spot in the Big Ten title game at stake, there are signs of uncertainty in the middle of No. 15 Wisconsin's big, bad offensive line.
Starting center Peter Konz missed last week's game at Illinois after dislocating his ankle against Minnesota, and Badgers coaches needed some in-game improvisation to beat the Illini. The Badgers are likely to be without Konz again for Saturday's home game against No. 20 Penn State.
While Penn State is reeling amid a child sex-abuse scandal, Nittany Lions players still hope to play for the conference championship - and defensive tackle Devon Still will be a tough test for the Badgers' reshuffled line.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema hopes his linemen take it as a personal challenge.
''To be considered one of the best you've got to play good against the best,'' Bielema said. ''For the most part, they've responded pretty well. This is another good example.''
Bielema said NFL scouts have told him Konz is ''playing as good as any center in college football,'' making him tough to replace. That certainly was the case last Saturday at Illinois.
Redshirt sophomore Ryan Groy started, but after a couple of shaky snaps in the second half, coaches flipped Groy with left guard Travis Frederick. The Badgers recovered from a slow offensive start and went on to win the game.
Bielema insisted this week that Konz has an ''outside chance'' to play. But the most likely strategy for the Badgers will be to keep Frederick at center and Groy at left guard.
''I think they'll do fine,'' right guard Kevin Zeitler said. ''Travis has played center before and Ryan has played guard before, so I think it will all be good. I'm not worried about it.''
Frederick, who started two games at center as a true freshman in 2009, says he feels comfortable at the position.
''I feel really good there,'' Frederick said. ''There are a few things here and there you're rusty at. I haven't played (there) in a little bit. Mostly, I feel pretty good about it. It's different from guard, it's harder and easier in its own respect. I think that it's just different, and for me to get a chance to go in there, it obviously shows my versatility and gives me a good challenge.''
And Frederick said things went ''seamlessly'' after he and Groy switched positions in the Illinois game.
''When he went in there at guard, he knew what he was doing,'' Frederick said. ''It wasn't really a big transition during the game, nothing's ever said about it, nothing's been said about it anyway. I told some people on Saturday, I don't know that it was necessarily all on ... that he had the bad snap, and that's why (the positions) got changed. I was not playing well at guard either, so maybe it was just kind of for a change-up and just to get things rolling in a different way. I think that it was just as much on me as it was on him.''
Frederick called the Nittany Lions' defensive tackle combination of Still and Jordan Hill the ''best inside guys that we've played against'' this season.
''I think one of their strengths, both of them, is challenging that double team and splitting that double team,'' Frederick said. ''It's going to be different, but getting through there, it just comes down to getting good technique and pad level. ... If you can do that, you can execute that double team on anybody. Those guys are playing a little bit lower than we are, or have been, so it's a challenge for us to go out there and do things right.''
Still didn't have a huge impact in Penn State's victory at Ohio State last week, but said this week that he was slowed by an illness in that game and is feeling better. He said he considers Wisconsin's offensive line the best in the Big Ten, and doesn't expect much of a drop-off with one of their starters missing.
''I don't think it changes up our game plan that much,'' Still said. ''Wisconsin has always been a school that just produces (offensive linemen). I'm pretty sure the backup is close to the amount of talent the first-string center has.''
Zeitler said the Nittany Lions are a tough test to finish the regular season.
''It's almost a bummer,'' Zeitler said. ''Couldn't we have had Minnesota last? But it's going to be fun, and just the way you want it. We need to play our best at the end of the year and this will truly show if we're up to that level.''
Freelancer Tammy Madsen contributed to this report.