Big Ten co-leaders collide in Happy Valley

first_imgMATTHEW KUTZ/Herald photoThe Badgers’ high-flying offense, No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring, will test the conference’s best defense when it takes on the Penn State Nittany Lions this Saturday.Led by running back and Heisman candidate Brian Calhoun, who leads the nation with 21 rushing touchdowns and is fifth in all-purpose yards, the Badgers look to tame the Lions.With matching records in the Big Ten (5-1) and overall (8-1), the Badgers and Nittany Lions find themselves fighting for a chance to rise to the top of the conference standings all alone. Penn State, with versatile quarterback Michael Robinson, has the athleticism and quickness that could cause headaches for a slower, less experienced Badger defense.”These guys bring just a more comprehensive look of speed from sideline to sideline,” defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “There’s also some nuances and you know [Michael Robinson] probably runs the quarterback draw better than everybody we’ve seen to this point. Obviously he can run the football, but also, he’s developed his throwing skills — he has a very strong arm and can throw the ball very effectively on the move to one of his four or five wide receivers who can change the ballgame in one play.”While his defense hasn’t performed as well as he had hoped, Bielema credits his unit for never giving up.”We’ve given up a lot more yards than I ever anticipated or wanted to, and same thing with points, but the bottom line is, I think we’ve been able to have guys that compete on every play,” Bielema said. “They haven’t given up at any given time, and I don’t expect that to happen anytime in the future.”Defensively, Wisconsin has been banged up, and although they’re not making leaps and bounds in returning guys from injury, they’re gradually getting key players back. Middle linebacker Mark Zalewski is practicing again and expected to play on Saturday after having missed last week’s game.”[Zalewski] looks pretty good,” said Bielema. “I think he’ll be 100 percent.”As for Robinson, at a solid 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, he not only likes to make the big plays but is willing to take the big hits as well.”[Robinson] is a strong one,” Bielema said. “He made some people look silly out there on just his ability to lower his shoulder. He’s another running back out there and he isn’t going to run out of bounds, he’s not going to look to take a knee or a slide or anything like that — he likes to get as much as he can out of every opportunity he has.”As it is, Robinson has gotten plenty of opportunities and no matter where his coaches put him he has been successful. Last year he played at tailback, took snaps under center as the quarterback and even slotted up as a receiver.His versatility can hurt a team in many ways — like throwing to one of his big receivers or tucking the ball in and running for a big gain. He definitely can do it all. Cumulatively, he has 23 touchdowns, including 10 on the ground to go along with 570 yards and 13 via the air as he has accumulated 1754 yards passing.”Robinson makes the whole click,” Bielema said. “He makes the wide receivers good, the running backs good, but pieces it all together, and he’s the guy that comes through for them.”On the offensive side, the Badgers will try to wear down the Nittany Lions’ front seven by giving the ball to their workhorse, Brian Calhoun. Although this front seven is good at nullifying the run, holding explosive Lawrence Marhoney of Minnesota to just 48 yards on 16 carries, Calhoun can still come out of the backfield and be very effective on screens.But the ingredient to success for the Badgers is ball control.”It’s a time-management game,” said Bielema. “Coach Alvarez is a big believer in time of possession.”While that may be a challenge against the top defense and against the explosiveness of Michael Robinson and the Nittany Lion offense, the Badgers will have to contend with the fans as well. Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the nation and with a Big Ten title on the line, they’ll be that much hungrier.But Bielema stressed that he and the players are not too concerned about the fans or the monumental weight of this game and will just stick to the game plan, hopefully coming out on top.”I don’t think our guys are going to get caught up in anything other than trying to be 1-0 this week,” Bielema said.last_img read more