10.26.2009

The Questions

The bye week has passed and come Saturday, Wisconsin will host the Purdue Boilermakers in one of their last two home games of the season. Bucky went into the bye week with their first losing streak of the season, dropping games to Iowa and Ohio State.

Both losses could have easily ended in the win column, but, by a variety of coaching and player mistakes, the Badgers lost. Heading out of the bye week Bucky sits at 2-2 in conference play, good enough for fifth in the Big Ten.

What those two losses left Badger Nation with was a lot of questions, questions that will need to be answered in the remainder of the year.

1. How good is Scott Tolzien?

This might be the biggest question facing Wisconsin through the stretch run. Which Scott Tolzien will we see? The one that threw four touchdowns against Michigan State or the one who struggled with accuracy against Iowa and tossed three interceptions.

Tolzien really seemed to get skittish in the pocket against the Hawkeyes, something the Badgers can't afford to have happen through the remainder of the season. Luckily, they won't face a defensive line of the caliber of Iowa or Ohio State again.

Realistically he needs to be just a game manager, not a playmaker. John Clay should be the focal point of the offense, and if that happens, Tolzien will be fine.

2. Will the secondary hold up?

Maybe the Badgers haven't been torched through the air like it seems... they're fifth in the Conference with 211 passing yards allowed per-game, but a certain amount of that is because they haven't faced the pass heavy teams in the Big Ten. When teams have passed against the Badgers, corners Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith, Aaron Henry and Niles Brinkley have looked hapless.

Spread teams like Northwestern and Purdue will have a distinct offensive advantage against Wisconsin's corners, that is, unless someone steps up. The D-Line will provide pressure, the linebackers will handle the run game. Can the secondary hold their own? Cross your fingers that they do.

3. Can the defense rebound from losing Mike Taylor?

Mike Taylor was the best linebacker on the Badgers roster through the first six-plus games of the season. Now he's done for the year, and the Badgers will need to fill that void. Coaches are concerned with overplaying freshman Chris Borland, who has a had a noticeable effect on special teams and in pass rush situations.

Most likely we'll see a lot more of junior Blake Sorensen. Sorensen lost the competition with Taylor in the preseason but has seen a lot of playing time. He has a sack on the season, but he won't provide the same type of big play ability that Taylor provided. The linebackers should be solid, no major drop off due to the loss of Taylor.

4. What's wrong with Philip Welch?

Last year Philip Welch was steady as can be, which was remarkable for a freshman kicker, even if he was a redshirt. 2009 has been a completely different story. It only takes one game to get back on track, but the Badgers can't afford any more missed - short - field goals. That 33-yarder he missed against Iowa was game-changing.

I think Welch will be alright, but what other options are there? The only other kicker on the Badgers roster is freshman Alec Lerner, who the team had intended to redshirt. Welch needs to get his act together, and soon.

5. Can anyone catch the ball?

Dropped passes have become a major problem. Any time you drop touchdowns in back to back losses, you will bring the ire of fans. This hasn't been a problem for the tight ends, but the Badger wideouts have a serious problem with holding on to the football.

While Isaac Anderson and Maurice Moore have had their troubles, emerging star Nick Toon has dropped his share as well. The talent is there, but mental mistakes are unacceptable. Yes, this is a young team, but if the troubles continue the Badgers have enough good players to pull guys that struggle.

If Anderson and Moore can't hold onto the ball than Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath should get their chances.

The Stretch Run

It's very likely that the Badgers will be favored to win the remainder of their games. With home games against Purdue 3-5(2-2) and a less than intimidating Michigan 5-3(1-3) and roadies at Northwestern 5-3(2-2), Indiana 4-4(1-3) and Hawaii 2-5(0-4 in the WAC) Bucky is in full control of their destiny.

With two losses a share of the Big Ten title is not out of the question. Otherwise, it's not unreasonable to put the Badgers at third or fourth place in the Big Ten. Winnable games from here out, it's time to beat the teams you're supposed to beat.

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