Fresh off a road win that many have deemed Wisconsin’s (2-1 Big Ten, 5-2 overall) breakout game, head coach Bret Bielema addressed the Badgers’ recent offensive improvements at his Monday press conference.
Bielema named two Badgers as co-offensive players of the week. To no one’s surprise, senior running back Montee Ball occupied one of those slots with his career-high 247 rushing yards behind a dominant performance by the offensive line Saturday.
Within the O-line, redshirt junior Ryan Groy especially stood out. Normally the team’s starting right guard, Groy shifted to left tackle when senior Ricky Wagner went down with a right knee injury in the second quarter. The West Allis, Wis., native did not return to the game, and Bielema said Wagner’s status for Saturday’s rivalry game against Minnesota remains unclear.
“For [Groy] to step in, in the middle of a series with limited exposure during the course of the week, pop out to left tackle and execute the way he did was really, really special,” Bielema said.
Groy was named co-offensive player of the week along with Ball.
Given how commanding Wisconsin’s offense looked at Purdue, it’s easy to forget it was just the fifth game for interim offensive line coordinator Bart Miller.
Bielema acknowledged the changes on the offensive line are a driving force in the offense’s turnaround, but he also pointed to other factors.
“I’m very excited the way our offensive line is playing. Give coach Miller a lot of credit for that,” Bielema said. “On the flip side, [we] just had our two tight ends, who I think are really good tight ends, play their best game. [Jared Abbrederis] has done an exceptional job of creating a culture of blocking in that wide receiving room, along with [wide receivers] coach [Zach] Azzanni.”
Bielema also expressed his satisfaction in first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Bielema complimented Canada’s even-keeled demeanor, comparing him to former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.
“I think, as [Canada] has more and more success here, you’ll see that true part of him come out, very creative,” Bielema said. “And it’s not creative with a bunch of highlighters and glitter. It’s about doing things that make sense.”
On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt junior safety Dezmen Southward was named the team’s player of the week after racking up five tackles (four solo) against Purdue. Bielema said Southward played his best career game at Purdue, noting the Sunrise, Fla., native has made huge strides in the last month. Southward’s partner in the secondary, redshirt senior Shelton Johnson, has appeared in just one game since breaking his right arm against Oregon State in week two.
“[Southward] is probably, pound-for-pound, our best athlete on the football team,” Bielema said.
On the injury front, redshirt junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong won’t need surgery on a right knee injury that took him out of the game at Purdue. He is expected to practice by “midweek or so.” Bielema said Armstrong is as good of an athlete as redshirt junior linebacker Chris Borland and redshirt senior linebacker Mike Taylor, but Armstrong doesn’t see as much of the spotlight.
“[Armstrong] plays in a position where he can’t get involved in as many tackles,” Bielema said. “A lot of times he’s detached by nature, just by the way we line him up, so he isn’t involved as much.”
Bielema said he would be shocked if redshirt junior defensive lineman Tyler Dippel doesn’t play this Saturday after sitting out against Purdue with a shoulder injury. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Robert Burge is expected to be ready for Saturday’s game.