Brown likely Outback starterBy Ben Voelkel Badger Herald
December 10, 2007
Madison, WI (CSTV U-WIRE) -- When the Wisconsin football team trots out on offense for the first time in the Outback Bowl, it appears P.J. Hill will not be in the backfield.
Hill, a two-year starter for the Badgers who was named national freshman of the year just a season ago, missed most of the final four games of the regular season with a leg bruise and hasn't practiced yet during bowl preparation.
"P.J. hasn't practiced to this point, and I don't see him practicing before the bowl game," UW head coach Bret Bielema said Saturday. "But there's a long time between now and then."
What's keeping Hill back is simple: He can't run.
"Basically since he started coming back, it's been the understanding that once he's been able to do certain things - primarily just run - he'd be able to come back," Bielema said. "He hasn't been able to do that to this point."
With Hill's status for the game doubtful, the Badgers are preparing to have Zach Brown and Lance Smith carry the load for the running game, a scenario that Bielema has admitted he's excited to see play out.
"I don't think it's a matter of catching [up to Hill], I think they're already there," Bielema said. "They've been able to be very productive in the same types of situations."
Bielema has fawned over Brown since the freshman started on the road against then-No. 1 Ohio State Nov. 3 and rushed for 63 yards. Brown has since started the final two games of the regular season and played at a level that has put him in a position to start the Outback Bowl.
"Zach has the upper hand I think, just the way he's played the last two ball games," Bielema said.
Against Michigan Nov. 10, Brown rushed for 108 yards and scored two late-game touchdowns that sealed the victory for the Badgers.
The following week, he scorched the Minnesota defense for 250 yards and two more touchdowns. Brown also had two runs of 60 or more yards.
Smith saw his action limited because of a five-game suspension and was passed by Brown as the primary backup to Hill as the season wore on. Still, Smith gained more than 400 yards on the ground and three touchdowns for the Badgers and had the highest per carry average (6.2 yards) of Wisconsin's primary rushers.
"Zach's continued to play well. He's played with confidence; he understands what we're asking him to do," Bielema said.
"Lance, on the other hand, it's kind of been a tough struggle for him all year because he knew he only had certain games that he could prepare and get ready for."
Although Wisconsin has known Tennessee will be its opponent in the Outback Bowl for a week, the Badgers haven't been doing much preparation for the Volunteers thus far.
After taking a week off following the 41-34 win over Minnesota, Wisconsin got back to practice, focused on improving as a team.
"We practiced Friday and Saturday of that week not knowing who our opponent was, just basically going Wisconsin versus Wisconsin," Bielema said. "We've had a couple developmental practices in between there and now."
Bielema said the Badgers would take their first crack at preparing for the Volunteers Sunday.
What coaches and players will have to be ready for is an offense and passing attack that could expose the same secondary that Minnesota lit up for 352 yards through the air.
"Any time you have a senior quarterback that has the numbers (Erik) Ainge has, you get worried as the defensive coaches," Bielema said. "They've been able to be so productive down the stretch."
With the move by Big Ten presidents to allow conference football teams to play games after Thanksgiving, Bielema has started to look into having its season-ending game next season against Iowa moved back.
"Bret wants to do it," UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said at Friday's Athletic Board meeting. "If Iowa doesn't want to do it, we'll try to find somebody else. You need an open date. [That]'s too hard. Twelve weeks straight is hard."
The Badgers currently have no game scheduled for Sept. 20. If Iowa decides against moving the game to after the holiday, Wisconsin could leave that date open as a bye and schedule its final non-conference game following Thanksgiving.
Alvarez also mentioned there has been some recent progress in negotiations between the Big Ten Network and cable provider Charter, saying the two sides are now talking, while "a few weeks ago they weren't negotiating."
- Pedro Oliveira Jr. contributed to this report.
(C) 2007 Badger Herald via CSTV U-WIRE