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Badger Bits: Special teams improvement may be key to Badgers' success

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If the Wisconsin Badgers plan to be a serious contender in the race for the Big Ten Championship, one area in which the team will most definitely need to improve is special teams. This article by Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel details the inconsistency of UW's special teams play under Bret Bielema. One stat that really caught my eye was that Wisconsin was 119th in the country in kickoff coverage last season. Considering there are only 120 teams in the football bowl subdivision, this isn't exactly a good statistic for the Badgers (only Washington State was worse).

So will Bielema's decision to split the special teams coaching between four assistants pay immediate dividends in 2010? It certainly can't hurt. A common complaint among fans has always been that Bielema should let someone else worry about special teams because he already has enough on his plate as head coach. In that vein, it's a good move perception-wise. But, I think Wisconsin's special teams success really hinges on what the players do on the field. Potrykus said it best: "there were times last season when it was obvious that opponents had better athletes than UW on the coverage and return units." That's why players like David Gilreath and Philip Welch have to step up their play and answer the bell this season.

Here's some other takes on Wisconsin's special teams: Benjamin Worgull of the Janesville's special teams preview. After the jump, more links, and a look at who took home Paul Bunyan's Axe in 2009. I'll give you a hint, it wasn't Minnesota.

The oldest rivalry in college football took on a new twist in 2009, as Wisconsin came to town for the first ever Big Ten Conference game at TCF Bank Stadium, a new and sorely-needed outdoor stadium located right on Minnesota's campus. But the Gophers would need more than a new stadium to stop their five game slide against the Badgers.

Wisconsin Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1, 1-0), October 3, 2009 - This game has featured lots of scoring in recent years, and we had yet another barn-burner in the matchup between these two bitter rivals. But this one was actually a defensive battle until a scoring explosion in the fourth quarter. John Clay scored first to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead, but Minnesota took a 13-10 lead into halftime. Patrick Butrym picked off a deflected pass to lead to another JC touchdown in the 3rd quarter, and make sure you check out the acrobatic TD catch by Lance Kendricks to make it 24-13 in the 4th. The game seemed to be in the bag, but an 88 yard fumble return touchdown by the Gophers off of a Zach Brown cough-up made it 24-20. Scott Tolzien then showed he can run it a little bit, picking up 47 yards on a thrilling QB rollout. From there, JC scored his 3rd TD, the Gophers scored another TD 45 seconds later, Wisconsin punted, and the Badgers finally sealed the deal with a Adam Weber fumble and recovery by Chris Borland with 30 seconds left. So, Wisconsin took the hard-fought 31-28 victory (and the Axe) for their first road win of the season. Wisky also remained undefeated, but the pass defense consistently getting shred up at the end of games was still a concern. John Clay was masterful- 184 rushing yards to go with 3 rushing touchdowns. Next week would be the ultimate test- Ohio State at the horseshoe.

More Links:

Too early for bowl projections? Never. These have Wisconsin vs. Miami again this season, but this time the stakes are higher in the Orange Bowl. Note that Ohio State is in the BCS championship game.

Rivals is ranking the top 100 players in college football, and John Clay is number 25. John Moffitt is number 60. Will we see Gabe Carimi in the top 15? Stay tuned.

How many years does John Clay have left in a Badger uniform?

Lance Kendricks is on the Mackey Award watch list. Considering our run of great tight ends, it's fairly surprising that a Badger has never won this award.

A former starting Wisconsin Badger quarterback was shot in Houston. Looks like he's doing well, thankfully.

Badger basketball assistant coach Howard Moore is a finalist for the head coaching job at Illinois-Chicago.

Need your Badger training camp fix? Here are the practice reports from Monday: practice 8, practice 9.