Mother’s remedy keeps Badgers on the field
Just ask sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt.
Watt is one of at least 10 members of the University of Wisconsin football team who has been affected by flu-like symptoms this week.
While it’s unknown if the players are infected with the H1N1 virus—also known as “Swine Flu”—that has spread throughout campus during the first week of classes, nobody, including Connie Watt, is taking any chances.
Being awoken from a nap by a text message from his mother to tell him she was outside, Watt opened the front door to see his mother, sporting a health mask, a bowl of chicken noodle soup and cleaning supplies to sterilize the house for Watt and his two roommates— running back Zach Brown and defensive end Louis Nzegwu.
“They appreciated it a lot,” Watt said. “My mom came in looking like it was something serious, and I was like, ‘Geez, Mom, it’s a stinking cold.’ I really appreciate that from her, because she knows how important the season is to us.”
A healthy Watt, who says he will be at full strength by Saturday’s home game against Fresno State, is critical for a defensive line that has set the bar excruciatingly high.
It didn’t matter that the Badgers replaced 75 percent of a line that struggled to quarantine opponents in 2008 with three first-time starters, or that the defensive line was riddled with injuries that threatened its depth for the season opener. This season, the defensive line is a “no excuses” group.
With the line having two players inactive due to injury and two others limited with bumps and bruises, Watt and senior captain O’Brien Schofield were a two-man wrecking crew against Northern Illinois. They combined for 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and shared a sack on the quarterback
“(Schofield) is a high-energy guy who flies off the ball, and he’s a lot of fun to play with,” Watt said. “We feed off each other. He gives me a lot of energy, and I try to energize him.”
With the two playing approximately a combined 115 snaps in the opener, the Badger defenders were stalwarts through three quarters, allowing NIU to gain just 151 yards during that stretch and score only six points. In the final quarter, however, the Huskies scored 14 points and gained 123 yards, making the game more interesting than expected.
“It was important that the team stayed together, kept our energy and kept fighting through that,” Schofield said. “We needed to stay focused in the fourth quarter.”
The Badgers might not get a chance to recover if a mental lapse occurs this week. Fresno State, behind three returning lineman and its top four retuning running backs, carried the ball 52 times for 310 yards and five touchdowns in its 51-0 season-opening win over UC-Davis.
Junior running Ryan Mathews also is back for the Bulldogs. In the Badgers’ 13-10 win at Fresno, Calif., last season, Matthews rushed 15 times for 57 yards, but it was a screen pass he took 61 yards that nearly swung the momentum away from Wisconsin.
“I just think back to last year with how physical the game was,” Schofield said. “It was a battle at the line of scrimmage.
“On offense, they have some pretty mobile offensive linemen and some two-skilled running backs. It’s going to be important to keep those guys contained.”
Right now, the only thing needing to be contained is this virus that has swept through the football program like a brushfire. According to coach Bret Bielema on Thursday, the majority of the team is symptom-free, and the flu has been only a minor setback.
One thing is for sure. Fresno State isn’t going to care if the Badgers have the sniffles.
“I definitely think the team is going to be at full strength,” Watt said. “Our mentality is at a high level, and we’re going to persevere through it. We’re not going to let each other down on this team.”