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Notebook: Olive Sagapolu returns; Wisconsin jet sweep effective again

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The sophomore big man makes an instant impact.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON — After initially being ruled out of Saturday’s game against Minnesota earlier this week, sophomore nose tackle Olive Sagapolu finally returned to the field for the first time since Oct. 15.

“Words that I really cannot describe,” Sagapolu said when asked about playing again after a five-game layoff. “I’m just excited to be back, contribute to the team, have fun, play the game.”

Sagapolu resumed his normal position as the anchor of the defensive line in Wisconsin’s 31-17 win over the Gophers on Saturday, a position that has been filled by junior Conor Sheehy and true freshman Garrett Rand for the past five games. Sheehy started the game at nose tackle, but Sagapolu found playing time often.

The 340-pound nose tackle fractured a small bone in his right hand into three pieces during the Ohio State game. Sagapolu believes he suffered the injury during the third quarter of the overtime loss to the Buckeyes, but in that contest, he simply taped it up and went back out on the field.

He had surgery the Monday after prior to Wisconsin’s win at Iowa, and had been sidelined since. Sagapolu got the go-ahead on Tuesday after he spoke with the team doctors, and Wisconsin upgraded him from “out” to “questionable” in a release sent on Friday.

“It was good to have him back and neat for him,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s missed a lot of football, and so for him to come back and be a part of this, it was good. It brings back energy. When you get a guy back, it gives you some energy, and it also gave us some production.”

Sagapolu made an impact against the Gophers, as he was one of five players who registered sacks on the afternoon. In the third quarter, he came free and leveled Leidner down for a six-yard loss on Minnesota’s first offensive series.

“To be honest, that’s my first sack ever in my career,” Sagapolu admitted, “so to get that, words cannot really describe how excited I was.”

The jet sweep strikes again

It really is sweet music when redshirt junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy carries the ball.

On Saturday, Wisconsin ran a variation of its jet sweep out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight end). With tight ends Troy Fumagalli and Eric Steffes to the right side of the line, Peavy took the handoff from quarterback Bart Houston and sprinted down the right sideline for a 71-yard gain — the longest play from scrimmage this season for the Badgers.

The explosive play led to senior running back Corey Clement scoring from two yards out just two plays later to give UW a 24-17 lead. Peavy gained a career-high 83 yards on three carries and tied for the team lead in receptions (four catches for 47 yards), but he also missed a critical third-down pass from Houston in the second quarter that would have netted a huge gain and possibly jump-start a team staggering after a 10-7 deficit.

“I was definitely frustrated at the time. It was one of things where we needed to get things going and that was definitely an easy opportunity for me to make a catch and convert on a third down and keep the drive going, and I didn’t,” Peavy admitted.

“I kind of got on myself a little bit but I feel like it was really my teammates that got my spirit back up, kept me in the game, kept me happy and things like that. When the end-around came in, I was just like, ‘I gotta do this for them. They expect this from me, they know I can.’ When the opportunity presented itself, I just made it happen.”

But what makes the play so potent and explosive?

“A strong run game and some big old tight ends getting out on the perimeter and making some key blocks,” Houston said. “Jazz really knows how to read those, and so does A.J. [Taylor] and George [Rushing] and Q [Quintez Cephus], and whoever else. I guess Corey ran some this year, too. Everybody’s ran a few, and their ability to just read the blocks and trust the scheme.”

The jet sweep is usually paired with a running play featuring the tailback, which helps keep defenses honest.

“It really helps when you can help the inside zone game going,” redshirt sophomore center Michael Deiter said. “If you’re hitting some good inside zones, teams will start to play that because they’re getting beat on it. Then if you throw those ‘phonies’ in there, where you’re not handing the jet sweep off, running the inside zone, they’ll get a little bit distracted and just worry about the inside zone.

“It allows you to run the sweep two-to-three times a game when you really need it, when they’re really starting to bite hard on the zone. It opens up for a big play.”

The one negative from Peavy’s big play was an injury to Steffes, the redshirt senior who’s played in all 12 games this season and is a significant contributor in the running game. Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. went low on the tight end. He walked off, and Winfield was assessed a personal foul penalty for his actions.

Notes:

  • Wisconsin and Minnesota are now tied at 59-59-8 in the series, which is the first deadlock since it was even at 6-6...back in 1901. UW has never led the series.
  • UW faced its largest deficit of the season when Minnesota took a 17-7 advantage with under a minute left in the second quarter. You have to go back to the Badgers’ 2015 season opener vs. Alabama — a span of 23 games -- to have seen them trail by double digits.
  • Clement finished with exactly 100 yards on 26 carries, and has now rushed for at least 100 yards in six of UW’s last seven games. After his Senior Day victory, Clement now has rushed for 2,857 career yards, passing Rufus Ferguson (2,814 from 1970-72) for 13th in the school’s all-time rushing list.

B5Q’s Curtis Hogg contributed to this article.