MADISON, Wis. -- When analyzing the Badgers' 2011 schedule, many experts pointed to Saturday's game with Northern Illinois as Wisconsin's best non-conference game. The Badgers would have to play against a former Wisconsin coordinator, whose team boasts an experienced offense lead by a dual-threat quarterback. After practice Thursday, head coach Bret Bielema said he was ready to see how his team reacts to a tougher opponent.
"I'm excited, because I think this is the toughest challenge we've had this year to date," Bielema said. "I'm excited to see our guys face some adversity."
The Badgers will certainly see a different type of offense on Saturday. Bielema mentioned the Huskies like to play up-tempo and snap the ball "as fast as they can," but the Badgers might get a little help from the Big Ten's officials.
"The way the NCAA rules are is if they sub, we have to have an opportunity to sub as well," Bielema said. "It's kind of funny - Coach Doeren would always complain about teams that were lining up on the field and doing some things that were borderline legal or not, and now its kind of flipped."
Bielema also said he is impressed with Huskies' quarterback Chandler Harnish, and mentioned he has grown a lot as a player since Harnish last played the Badgers in 2009.
"He's directing traffic, he understands where everyone is supposed to be, he understands the play clock, he's just a complete player," Bielema said. "He reminds you a lot of Russell, as far as how he handles and moves things."
As far as playing against Doeren goes, Bielema had nothing but praise for his former defensive coordinator.
"It's just fun to see him grow, and obviously I think he's got a really good football team."
-- Linebacker Kevin Claxton practiced with the team for the last three days, and could see action against the Huskies, but Bielema said Ethan Armstrong would get another start at strong-side linebacker.
-- Offensive lineman Travis Frederick will start at left guard on Saturday, after injuring his knee against UNLV. Ryan Groy, who started in Frederick's place against Oregon State, will get a few reps at both guard spots against NIU.
News and Notes
-- Bielema said Claxton initially broke his thumb on the opening kickoff against UNLV, a fact made more impressive if you look at the box score. After breaking his thumb, Claxton still made five tackles in the game.
-- Running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Fred Willis might see action in the return game on Saturday, according to Bielema. Neither player will start, but could get a few reps later in the game.
"They've looked good this week," Bielema said. "Melvin's more of a primary returner, and we're using Freddy as an off-returner, where [Jared Abbrederis] is."
-- Bielema did not sound concerned about kicker Alec Lerner, who is handling kickoff duties while Philip Welch recovers from a quad injury. Apparently Lerner prefers to use a scuffed up ball, but hasn't been able to yet because Big Ten referees did not officiate the Badgers' last two games. When asked if a different ball type could cause a mental block for a kicker, Bielema replied: "Absolutely. Show me a kicker who's not mental."
"I understand it," Bielema said. "Just like I love to play golf - If I'm playing with a club or a ball that I don't like, I usually don't play very well."
-- Bielema also mentioned a few NFL scouts have been impressed with what they've seen out of right tackle Josh Oglesby this year.