Wisconsin takes on team coached by former UW defensive coordinator
MADISON On Sunday afternoon, Soldier Field was the site of the Chicago Bears’ National Football League opener.
On Saturday afternoon, Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren will hold a family reunion on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“I am looking forward to facing Coach Doeren,” UW senior free safety Aaron Henry said of the Badgers’ former defensive coordinator, who is in his first season as the Huskies’ head coach. “That is the same guy who recruited me.
“It is going to be love regardless. But when we’re on the football field, it is strictly business. He has to go out there and try to win. And I’m trying to go out there and put something amazing on tape for us to win.
“He understands it’s all business. He would only want me to go out there and play my best.”
The matchup—No. 7 UW is 2-0 and unranked Northern Illinois is 1-1 after suffering a 45-42 loss Saturday night at Kansas—won’t generate much attention nationally.
The game, which starts at 2:30 p.m., isn’t on TV. It can be seen on ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360.com), an online streaming service. Ticket sales have not been brisk.
Yet feelings will be strong inside the UW locker room and in the NIU coaches’ offices.
“He is one of the most competitive people I know,” UW senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said of Doeren.
“He loves to win, and he works so hard. I have so much respect for him, and I’m happy that he is at Northern Illinois.
“He is going to have those guys ready.”
Butrym knows Northern Illinois traditionally recruits the state of Wisconsin. This season, nine players from Wisconsin are on the Huskies’ roster.
Knowing that, Butrym predicted the tone of the motivational speeches Doeren might use this week:
“He’ll tell them: ‘These guys think they are better than you. These coaches, they had no faith in you to come to Wisconsin.’
“He is going to have them ready to go and they’re going to play really well. I’m glad that we know he is coaching them because we know what kind of effort they’ve going to have.”
UW is fresh of a 35-0 victory over Oregon State. That game pitted two longtime friends— Oregon State head coach Mike Riley and UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Chryst downplayed that factor.
“Not a lot of thoughts going on there,” Chryst said when asked about what Doeren might be able to do against the UW offense. “We’re playing Northern Illinois. … Obviously they will be well-coached, but we’ve got to make sure we take care of our business.”
When Bielema began assembling his first staff at UW, he plucked Doeren from Kansas to become his co-defensive coordinator under Mike Hankwitz.
He fired Hankwitz after the 2007 season and promoted Doeren to defensive coordinator. Doeren held that role through the Rose Bowl last season before moving to Northern Illinois.
In the five years they worked together at UW, Bielema and Doeren enjoyed a relationship that was fruitful and frank.
“I was probably as close to Dave as anybody on my staff, and he and I used to get after each other pretty good if we didn’t agree,” Bielema said. “Because Dave is very opinionated and we’d do it in front of everybody.”
In the days leading to the Oregon State game, Bielema said he didn’t anticipate talking to Doeren this week.
There has been a slight change of plans.
“Actually I am going to talk to Dave,” Bielema said after the victory over Oregon State. “He asked me to do a radio interview with him to promote the game on Monday. I’ll be talking to Dave indirectly.
“We’ll probably have a few surprises for the Huskies. It will be fun to see his reaction. It really will be a very enjoyable week. The preparation … it will be a fun time.”
Northern Illinois, which finished 11-2 last season, this season is projected to finish second in the Mid-American Conference West Division.
After opening with an impressive 49-26 victory over Army, the Huskies surrendered a touchdown with nine seconds left in the loss to Kansas.
“One play, one game won’t define our season,” Doeren said after the loss. “We’ll go back and regroup. We’ve got to get better as a football team.
“Our guys played hard. Defensively, we just didn’t play well enough at times. We had a ton of missed tackles, and we didn’t make enough plays. Our offense did what they needed to do.
“All of our goals are still intact.”
One of those goals is to upset UW.
“They have an extremely talented team,” Butrym said. “They went 11-2 last year. It’s just a very good program, similar to a Big Ten program. I know guys who play on that team. It will be a tough game.”
Cromartie steps in at CB
Bielema says the Badgers won’t miss a beat at cornerback when Marcus Cromartie replaces Devin Smith against Northern Illinois.
Cromartie was inserted midway through the first quarter last Saturday against Oregon State when Smith went out with a left foot injury. Cromartie had seven tackles in the UW’s 35-0 rout.
“I think he jumped in Saturday and played extremely well, and he was getting a lot of reps at nickel as well,” Bielema said of the redshirt junior.
Smith was to meet with a doctor to determine severity of the injury, and Bielema has yet to learn if the starting cornerback is done for the season.