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Bret Bielema Week 8 Press Conference: Thriving On All Cylinders, Badgers Eye The Axe

After perhaps its best performance of the season, Wisconsin takes aim at Minnesota this weekend for The Battle For Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Bret Bielema seemed to be gleaming earlier on Monday, and you couldn't blame him. Wisconsin, after facing a lifetime's worth of adversity through the season's first six weeks set forth perhaps its greatest performance in Saturday's 38-14 win at Purdue. Joel Stave was efficient and largely mistake-free, despite throwing one interception. Montee Ball finally looked like 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball and the defense held Purdue to a measly output of 252 tota yards.

At his weekly Monday press conference, Bielema spent much of his 20-plus minutes extolling several individual performances. The following players were the weekly MVPs:

OFFENSE Ryan Groy, Montee Ball Ball: 29 carries, 247 yards, 3 TDs; 1 reception, 14 yards
DEFENSE Beau Allen, Dezmen Southward Allen: 1 tackle, 1 blocked kick; Southward: 5 tackles (1 for loss), 1 interception
SPECIAL TEAMS N/A "Just no one really stood out," Bielema said.

Health-wise, the Badgers appear to be in good shape. As Bielema Tweeted (!) on Sunday night, linebacker Ethan Armstrong will not need surgery for a right knee injury he sustained vs. Purdue. Bielema said on Monday that Armstrong is hoping to be practicing by "midweek or so." Backup OT Robert Burge is also expected back in practice on Wednesday or Thursday and should play vs. Minnesota. Backup guard Dallas Lewallen is also coming on and "could be an option" for Wisconsin this weekend.

Most significant, though, is the status of left tackle Ricky Wagner. After suffering a knee injury vs. Purdue, Wagner remains a question mark for this weekend.

"I don't know if he'll be with us this week," Bielema said. "I know he'll try to get back out there. It's a guy that obviously wants to be out there in the worst way. This is a senior, and actually his birthday is this coming Sunday. I know it's a special time for him and he is obviously trying to help us win every game that we can. Don't know the status of him as of right now."

Other notes from the presser:

  • Purdue opened the game with kickoff returns of 44 and 57 yards, respectively. Bielema said the issue was mostly coverage, though he would always like kicks to go deeper. "Both of those were field returns that went back away from where the area that we kicked. Lack of execution by certain players, but obviously something schematically that we really needed to scrutinize which we did on Sunday. That unit had been pretty good."
  • On Ball's performance: "A lot of what you saw out of Montee is a direct result of what's going on in front of him. The holes are there. The people are making blocks. He's reading. But he had a number of yards on Saturday that were there, but then he earned a lot of those yards too, broke some tackles, step through some things, made some people miss. I just think he's really found that groove and really getting to where he wants to be."
  • Bielema replaced six coaches in the offseason, and then another once newcomer Mike Markuson was fired after Week 2. Every week before the Minnesota game, Bielema usually has an assistant coach address the team on the importance of the rivalry, but that turnover has brought into question exactly who will be this week's rah-rah guy. "It's up to two guys for me right now," Bielema said. "Both have expressed an interest. I'll let you know tomorrow or Thursday where it's going. I know that there's a lot that goes into it. Anybody that's played here has a certain perspective that they really always like to bring out of it."
  • Bielema discussed his affinity for Armstrong, given like he was during his playing days, Armstrong is a former walk-on. Armstrong told Bielema last week he's trying to challenge Kyle Costigan for the right to be known as the toughest player on the team.
  • There were no changes to this week's depth chart.