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Wisconsin changed in all right ways

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October 6, 2009
— Not long after Wisconsin had managed to turn another Minnesota venue into yet another football funhouse, the question was put to Bret Bielema:

Are the Badgers a Big Ten contender?


Well, now.


But given the volatility of the league, which is a kind way to say that it is lacking in certain essentials, it wasn’t an unreasonable question, even if UW has offered just two evidentiary cases.


Naturally, neither the coach nor his players would touch that one with the 10-foot axe that came with the usual hypertension-inducing 31-28 victory against the Gophers. After all, why would they want to set themselves up like that, especially with all that disqualified them as mere pretenders last season?


And why should you, Mr. or Ms. Badgers Fan, concern yourself with it at the moment, either? Because right here, right now, there is only one question of any relevance where UW football is concerned:


Are the Badgers rehabilitated?


The answer seems as clear as the difference between the Metrodome and the Gophers’ gorgeous new on-campus stadium, which is to say the difference between the dark and the light. The Badgers are so, so changed in all the right ways from last year, and really, that is all you wanted to see at this point—a physically dominant, smart, aggressive team that sweats the details.


Sure, you’d prefer they not make you sweat so much, but that’s probably too much to ask whenever Minnesota is involved. Right now, you’d settle for Chris Maragos’ explanation behind the transformation.


“The reason why, we’ve got tough guys, relentless guys,” the senior free safety said. “That has been the difference for us.”


Relentless, as in Louis Nzegwu, one of the many defensive linemen UW can now rotate in, chasing, chasing and chasing Adam Weber some more until Nzegwu finally dropped the quarterback for a 17-yard sack at the Minnesota 5-yard line.


And tough, as in the offensive line and John Clay, pounding, pounding and pounding some more until they eroded the Minnesota defense like the rocks worn smooth by the mighty river separating the rivals.


“I don’t think there’s anybody in the Big Ten who wants to hit more than we do,” said Peter Konz, UW’s big, smiling freshman center. “We just love to hit.


“I love it. Wisconsin football all the way.”


Yes, that’s it. Wisconsin football.


Finally, a return to Wisconsin football made possible by this revival movement that, so far, is reflecting well on a young head coach who needed to show he had the wherewithal for exacting the necessary changes.


Nevertheless, ball security remains an issue. In the matter of roughly 4 seconds, the amount of time it seemed to take Minnesota cornerback Marcus Sherels to cover 88 yards, Zach Brown’s fumble caused a startling 15-point swing and a return to normalcy in this wacky series.


There was also the matter of how Scott Tolzien would react in his first road start. But from two negatives, an interception and a fumble, sprang one encouraging positive for the new quarterback. He never let any of it get to him.


“He just forgets about it,” Konz said. “He’s a great leader. He doesn’t get down.”


And so it was with the late 47-yard bootleg, a terrific call by Paul Chryst, the offensive coordinator who is able to mix it up so much more now that he has a genuine, playmaking quarterback able to make the unpredictable possible between the beatings inflicted by Clay and the linemen.


So, to the question:


Is Wisconsin a league player?


“We’re a team that makes a lot of improvements,” Bielema said.


So let me answer. Continue to play smart, tough, Wisconsin football, and the rest will take care of itself.



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