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November 10, 2011

Notes: Injuries and trophy games

MADISON - Just over a week ago junior defensive end David Gilbert said he would need to break his foot all over again in order to take the medical redshirt seemingly available to him.

Now, having given it a go this week in practice, it seems as though that option is becoming more of a reality.

"We're getting down to the final hour," head coach Bret Bielema said during his Thursday press conference. "We had targeted this (week). If he wasn't going by this game we'd probably move forward with the redshirt."

Gilbert, who said he was most frustrated by the fact that he's worked so hard to finally crack the starting lineup, suffered a broken foot during Nebraska prep more than a month ago.

Considering his family was planning a trip to Madison to watch that game, and considering the hype and hoopla surrounding it, Gilbert was already upset by the fact that he had to miss the game.

As the season continued and he watched his team lose two games in absolutely gut-wrenching fashion, Gilbert started to wonder if things would have been different had he been playing in it.

Now, considering he practiced Tuesday, endured a painful Wednesday and only practiced minimally Thursday, it seems as though more frustration will be added before things take a turn for the better.

"I know it's a frustrating thing for him," Bielema said. "But I know he's giving it his all."

Louis Nzegwu, like Gilbert, has experienced numerous injuries throughout the season. His current foot issue has made it tough to get back to 100 percent. That means UW's top two defensive ends are questionable for this week's game at Minnesota.

"Last week he missed Tuesday and Wednesday and then practiced Thursday," Bielema said. "We weren't sure if he was going to play but then he did. He played pretty well, but it's a factor. He kind of has good and bad days. He's been engaged all week.

"The thing that has come out of his and David's departure is the emergence of Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel. They're playing pretty good football for us."

Other injuries:

-Senior Aaron Henry returned to practice Wednesday. He also practiced Thursday. According to Bielema, he'll be good to go against the Gophers.

"He was in with the ones the entire time today," Bielema said. "Everybody else is good to go."

Speaking from experience:

Ben Strickland, a former safety for the Badgers, was the guest speaker this week. Bielema made it clear how he appointed Strickland for the job simply because he was a part of the team that last lost the axe to rival Minnesota.

That was his main message throughout the week. Don't take anything for granted. Don't assume UW is given anything. Everything that is earned in the rivalry is exactly that. Earned.

"When you lose a trophy game there is just something you never really erase or forget," Bielema said. "I learned it when I was at Iowa. We played for the Floyd of Rosedale. I remember Minnesota coming and taking the pig and then us going and grabbing it.

"Those things always stick out in your mind, but since we've had it for seven years none of our players have experienced that."

Strickland also shared some stories about players that went such lengths to cut a wrongfully healed finger off so they had a better chance of holding on to the ball. As Bielema said, 'it's better to lose a finger than fumble against Minnesota.'

"I don't know if there's any truth to it," Bielema said.

Changes upcoming with special teams:

If there is one thing that can define the Badgers season to this point it would be shoddy (at best) special teams. Blocked punts might be the reason Wisconsin currently has two losses and is in the midst of a rough-and-tumble three-team race for the 'Leaders' division finish line. With better execution UW might be undefeated at this juncture.

Last week, UW's kickoff return units struggled. If it's not one thing this season in regards to UW's special teams, it's the other. Changes have been made, both schematically and from a personnel standpoint.

Though Bielema admitted how players such as Mike Taylor, Chris Borland, Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus would be good contributors on special teams, he does not plan on utilizing every down starters in that capacity.

"Those guys are just fragile as it is," Bielema said. "We have moved some personnel around and put guys in different positions."

Quick hits:

-Wisconsin practiced outside for the first portion of practice, even though temperatures didn't climb higher than 35 degrees. They finished inside the McClain Center Thursday afternoon.

-Bielema said he's hopeful they can practice outside tomorrow with nicer weather. Saturday's weather report from Minneapolis looks to feature favorable conditions for a mid-November game.

-For comments from Bielema regarding the Penn State situation make sure to check the BadgerBlitz.com main page.

Quotable:

Bielema on the play of Jake Byrne this season:

"When the scouts come in they're very high on him. He's a guy that is all of 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. He actually catches the ball very well. Two springs ago him and J.J. Watt used to go at it. They both loved to compete. J.J. is a first-round draft pick and Jake could hold his own against J.J. That always stood out to me."


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