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November 4, 2011MADISON - Two weeks ago at this time the Wisconsin football team was riding high, coasting through the first half of the season with a 6-0 record, including a pasting of then top-10 Nebraska.
Now, Wisconsin is a reeling fringe top-20 team hoping to right its wrongs following a couple of the more devastating and shocking losses in school history.
Before the Badgers finally return to the Camp Randall turf Saturday afternoon to square off with Purdue, BadgerBlitz.com gives you five things to watch.
Special, special teams:
To be blunt, Wisconsin has been absolutely horrendous on special teams in each of the past two weeks. It's inexcusable for the same miscues, the same lack of execution to happen each of the past two weeks. Punt blocks can't and shouldn't happen in one week, let alone two straight. That is the type of stuff that will cost a team a win. And it reared its ugly head each of the past two weeks.
Robert Burge, who wound up right smack in the middle of the miscues each of the past two weeks, is no longer in the same role. Having made the same mistake twice head coach Bret Bielema had no other choice. Now since that move has been made, should the mistake happen again it would be entirely on the coaching staff.
The hangover effect:
There's truly no way anyone can gauge how a program is going to respond following two losses the caliber UW has suffered until they wind up back on the field. There are a number of ways the Badgers can come out against Purdue. They could come out like a team on a mission, entirely focused to solve the issues that have plagued it.
They could also come out hungover, desperately wounded from the events that took place in East Lansing and Columbus. Judging by the way the players have handled the week of practice, and their comments in the media, it seems as though they're ready to get back on the field. There's also a feeling that they might be a bit deflated and morose.
Only time will tell.
Offensive line demeanor:
As shocking as it sounds, simply because it typically doesn't happen, the Wisconsin offensive line was beat in the trenches last week at Ohio State. Expect that unit, more so than any other unit on the team, to come out with a fire under them. They'll have something to prove. They'll do their best to make up for it this week against Purdue.
Obviously the road wasn't kind to Bret Bielema and his Badgers. They had two chances to win on the road and they let both of them slip right through their fingers. With the losses, UW also kissed away any chance it had to join the national title conversation and it's own path to the Big Ten title game and a potential trip back to Pasadena.
Now they're back in Camp Randall. As the saying goes .there's nothing like some old-fashioned home cooking. UW plays incredibly well at home. They need to beat Purdue to get their mojo back.
The Toon effect:
Having played two mediocre (at best) games in each of the past two weeks, will Nick Toon finally play up to the level he established during the first six weeks of the season. Purdue has a couple of cornerbacks that are more than capable of disrupting UW's wide receivers. Toon, like the offensive line, could come out looking to prove his worth. UW's offense will do nothing but benefit if that's the case.