We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Friday, Oct. 21, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
A net loss?
In a mild surprise, the Wisconsin football team will have one of its best players and leaders on Saturday when it takes the field against Iowa.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 20, 2016
The heart and soul of Wisconsin’s defense, Biegel returns after missing two games after foot surgery on Sept. 29. It’ll have been 23 days since the procedure, one in which he had a screw inserted in his foot, when he steps on the field in Iowa City. It’s a significant addition to a Wisconsin defense that has stayed among the best in the country, even in Biegel’s absence.
But perhaps the bigger news, at least on the injury front, is that nose guard Olive Sagapolu will not play because of an arm injury. The average fan probably doesn’t know much about the sophomore, but he’s been vital to the success of this year’s unit.
A 340-pound mountain of a man, Sagapolu’s job in the middle of the defense is to keep blockers off of the inside linebackers, and he’s done that consistently. He played a big role in the wins over LSU and Michigan State, along with a strong defensive effort in the loss to Michigan.
Whereas the Badgers had junior Garrett Dooley to fill in for Biegel, the options behind Sagapolu are not your typical nose guards. It’s where you put your biggest guys, and the two players that will step in — freshman Garrett Rand and sophomore Bill Hirschfeld — are both less than 300 pounds. Against an Iowa run game that wants to slam the ball down an opponent’s throat, not having a starting nose guard capable of holding up against constant double teams is a big concern.
So as great as it is to get Biegel back, the loss of Sagapolu is the bigger story for Saturday.
Keeping Hornibrook upright
Much of the focus on Wisconsin’s offensive line this season has been its inability to open running lanes. That was until the Badgers pounded Ohio State most of the night on the ground in a 30-23 loss last week. But what has become apparent, at least against Michigan and Ohio State, is that keeping quarterback Alex Hornibrook on his feet long enough to find an open receiver is also a significant issue for the offensive line.
Although Hornibrook admitted he needed to get the ball out quicker and give his guys a shot on the final play of overtime against Ohio State, the fact is he had very little time to make up his mind. As Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down, Hornibrook had just 1.9 seconds to get the ball away because the right side of Wisconsin’s line — right guard Beau Benzschawel and right tackle Jake Maxwell — got caved in, allowing the sack to end the game.
“The lower man stops a bull-rush no matter what,” Maxwell said. “The biggest thing Rudy talked to me about was pad level on my sets.
“He got under me and I tried driving him back, but the play just collapsed on us.”
Benzschawel added: “Pass protection is the biggest thing I need to improve on. My pad level has been an issue.”
Iowa doesn’t have the same athletes in its front seven as Michigan and Ohio State, who combined for six sacks against Wisconsin, but the Hawkeyes certainly saw the issues the right side of the line had in the last two games. Expect them to focus pressures and blitzes on that side of the line and force Benzschawel and Maxwell to show they’ve improved in their protections. If they haven’t, it could be another long game for Hornibrook, who has taken a beating in two of his three starts.
Vitto Brown looking to expand his game
No player was a bigger surprise last season for the Wisconsin basketball team than Vitto Brown. A career backup, the forward showed off a 3-point touch that no one had seen in his first two years on campus.
After a slow start to the season, Brown shot 50 percent (21 of 42) from beyond the arc in the Badgers last 10 Big Ten games and carried that into the NCAA tournament, where he hit 7 of 16. And if it weren’t for Wisconsin blowing a lead against Notre Dame in the final 19 seconds, it would be Brown’s 3-pointer with 25 seconds left that everyone was talking about afterward.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and the Badgers season came to an end. So following what some could call a breakout season, what did Brown work on this offseason to compliment his outside game?
“Post presence,” Brown said. “Can’t just have Ethan (Happ) doing all the work down there alone. I got to help him out some. I’ve been trying to work on that, for sure.”
That Brown’s focus was on his inside game makes sense. It was a clear weak area for the 6-foot-9 senior, and successful teams and players turn weaknesses into strengths. And just like Happ’s focus on his outside game appears to be paying off, the early returns on Brown are similar on the inside, making the duo that much more dynamic for coach Greg Gard. That should be a salivating thought for Wisconsin fans.
Best football, basketball programs?
When the USA Today college basketball coaches poll came out Thursday, the Badgers found themselves at No. 10, the second-highest starting spot in program history. And it left Wisconsin as the only school in the country to have both its basketball and football programs currently ranked in the top 10.
Only school in the country with a top-10 team in football and basketball? Yep. #OnWisconsin
— Wisconsin Badgers (@UWBadgers) October 20, 2016
Being ranked in a poll really means very little, but it does bring to mind the question of when you take the football and basketball programs together, where does Wisconsin rank on a national level. And the answer is, pretty dang high.
Back in July, CBSSports.com ranked the Badgers third overall since 2000, and this football season has done nothing to tarnish that, with coach Paul Chryst’s group picking up a pair of top-10 wins.
Sure, Wisconsin hasn’t hung national title banners in either sport — though they’ve come close on the court — but no team outside of Ohio State in the Big Ten has consistently put a winner on the playing field (or court) like Wisconsin.