Watching these weekly press conferences, especially this season, always seems to be a unique experience. You'll judge Bret Bielema's expressions, his perceived amount of patience that day and the length of time reporters spend asking him questions, among other things.
This week's presser wasn't big on news, aside from a few depth chart notes (see below). James White, who was the offensive MVP, earned praise for his 62-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass in the second quarter. Bielema also highlighted his linebackers -- Mike Taylor, Ethan Armstrong and Chris Borland -- each of whom finished with at least 12 tackles. Bielema initially announced Taylor as the defensive MVP before acknowledging he made a mistake and it was Armstrong who had actually earned that honor.
Bielema was effusive with praise for wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who leads the Big Ten with 103.2 receiving yards per game and ranks second in the conference with 19.1 yards per catch and five touchdowns. Abbrederis is also the first Badger since 2001 with three straight 100-yard receiving games. In that span, the junior is averaging 135.3 receiving yards per game.
"For what he's doing offensively, he did a nice job coming in as a punt returner, making a big play happen there, as well," Bielema said, referencing Abbrederis' 26-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. "He's just very, very impressive. Obviously, the touchdowns and long strikes are huge, but he was a key factor and a key blocker on James White's touchdown, and a key blocker on several running plays for Montee [Ball] and James. That kid is just an incredible football player that deserves all the recognition he's getting."
Elsewhere on the offense, Bielema addressed Curt Phillips, who saw his first game action since October 2009 in the second quarter. On a 2nd-and-5 from Wisconsin's 32-yard line, Phillips, a senior quarterback who's undergone three knee surgeries, rushed for a loss of two yards. The results were obviously unimpressive, though Bielema said the play was part of a package the Badgers have been working on and are excited about. Plus, for everything Phillips has endured, he's garnered a tremendous amount of respect from players and coaches.
"Kurt has a lot of respect not only from the players and the coaches, but he's a guy that's battled through a lot just for him to get on the field after three years," Bielema said. "It says a lot about who he is and what he is. I realize the outside world, when he popped it in there, thought it was a reaction to something. It was just, finally, a chance to get him out there.
"It was something we probably repped at least five weeks in a row and it looked really good. It probably looked its best on Wednesday, when we were going good against good, our good offense versus our good defense. It created a couple really good plays and it's definitely a package that we feel strong about."
The Badgers also appear to be getting healthier, as Bielema was happy that defensive ends Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon both returned. As you'll see in the depth chart notes below, Wisconsin seems to be a remarkably healthy team at this point. Only reserve offensive lineman Dallas Lewallen seems to be struggling with health issues. Bielema said Lewallen continues to struggle with knee injuries and is just not healthy enough to begin contributing.
"It is strictly health related," Bielema said. "He wasn't even cleared last week. We do think he will be available for practice Tuesday but unfortunately he has had a lot of trauma to that knee."
Depth Chart updates:
- Curt Phillips is now co-listed with Danny O'Brien at the No. 2 quarterback spot (yes, O'Brien's name still comes first).
- Kyle Costigan, after sitting out Saturday's 31-14 win over Illinois due to a knee injury he sustained the week before against Nebraska, is back at the No. 1 right guard spot.
- On defense, Shelton Johnson is once again the No. 1 strong safety. Johnson returned on Saturday from a broken arm he suffered in Week 2 against Oregon State and it wasn't long before he slid back into his SS spot. Michael Caputo and and Michael Trotter are co-listed as his backups after Caputo got the start vs. Illinois but struggled.
- Cornerback Peniel Jean, who suffered a broken foot in fall camp and has yet to play this season, is now co-listed with Devin Gaulden as the No. 2 CB behind Marcus Cromartie.
- Offensive MVP: RB James White -- 6 carries, 42 yards (7 YPC); 1 reception, 62 yards, 1 TD
- Defensive MVP: LB Ethan Armstrong -- 10 tackles, 1 pass break-up
- Special Teams MVP: K Kyle French -- 46-yard field goal