MADISON, Wis. – With both John Moffitt and Bill Nagy back from their respective injuries, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema had to figure out what to do with them.
Two days out from the Big Ten opener, the fourth-year head coach has done exactly that.
"John Moffitt will start for us at left guard," Bielema said. "Peter Konz will start for us at center and Kevin Zeitler will start for us at right guard. The tackles will remain the same.
"So those guys will make up our starting offensive line."
Last week against Wofford, both Moffitt and Nagy saw 29 plays of game action in UW's 44-14 win. So with their improved health, the question that began circulating around was what to do with the offensive line that was intact for the first two and a half games.
With Moffitt moving over to guard, junior Jake Bscherer, who had started at left guard in each of the first three games will now play in a reserve role. The move was made in large part due to Moffitt's experience at the position.
"We liked the way, when he was a center, that he could really pull," Bielema said. "As you guys know, we love to move those guards and do certain things. I thought John might be better suited for that position overall. He was at center based on need, basically, a year ago."
Moffitt, who was the starting center for all 13 games in 2009, was moved to guard simply because of the performance from Konz and Travis Frederick (before his injury) allowed the coaching staff to do so. Now, with Konz having nearly two full games under his belt at the position, Bielema felt it best to keep him over the ball.
"Pete's size and his athleticism," Bielema said. "Bottom line, Pete is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds and can move. Some of the stuff we do at center, we don't pull the center as much as guard, but they are moving out there quite a bit on the perimeters."
In making the move, Bielema is losing plenty of experience at a critical position. That, though, just speaks to how strongly he feels about the progression of Konz throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule.
"You do, especially since they've played those three games," Bielema said when asked if he felt strongly about Konz and his young experience. "If we were doing it for the first time, I'd have some hesitations and concerns."
Throughout the week, Moffitt has been taking reps with the backups at center. So if need be, he would be able to fill in for Konz.
On the other side of the line, Nagy will get reps behind Zeitler. Through three games, Zeitler has been a solid guard on the right side. So it made sense for Bielema to keep him in as the starter and have Nagy spell him, though Nagy is a bit nicked up at this point.
"He practiced all of last week and played 29 plays," Bielema said. "He practice Tuesday, but then kind of re-aggravated it on Wednesday and didn't do much today. So (it's) a little bit how he feels Saturday and moving forward."
Bielema noted that Bscherer will get reps in the game and could possibly move over to right guard if need be.
"Jake will get in there," Bielema said. "I think John (Moffitt), going into his first game, I don't know if he's ready to take 70 snaps in a Big Ten football game. Jake has had a good week of practice and the reason we're doing it is trying to get a little bit more experience in there and a little bit more mobility."
-Louis Nzegwu and Brendan Kelly both returned to practice and received plenty of reps throughout the week. Both should see playing time on Saturday against MSU. If they continue to progress, their presence would add much needed depth to the end position.
-J.J. Watt, who suffered a sprained ankle against Wofford and was seen in a boot, was able to return to practice both Wednesday and Thursday. It seems he will be ready to go for Saturday's game.
Running back situation:
When the depth chart was released Monday afternoon at Bielema's press conference, junior Zach Brown was listed as the starting back. Now, as of Thursday evening, both players have bounced back from their fumble problems last week and had a good week of practice. Thus, a decision will need to be made as far as who gets the start for the Big Ten opener.
"To be quite honest," Bielema said. "We'll have a discussion tomorrow on the running backs on who will start between Zach Brown and John Clay. Both of them have done a good job all week to put themselves in a position to have success on Saturday and move ourselves forward."
After coughing up three fumbles, one that was lost, against Wofford, Clay had arguably more scrutiny on him this week than he did over his entire career to this point. But Bielema made it clear he wanted to see how Clay plays and responds to that adversity.
"I want to see how he plays," Bielema said. "I don't necessarily have to see how he earns my trust. I pointed out in my press conference that in his previous 15 games he only had four fumbles. I haven't been alarmed by him and ball security in the past. Obviously something was off Saturday.
"We kind of addressed that and talked about it."
Both will undoubtedly get reps and it will be interesting to see where Erik Smith fits into that equation.
Appleton fully healthy, should see increased playing time:
For the first time since fall camp began, freshman wide receiver Kraig Appleton is fully healthy. It couldn't have come at a better time. The four-star prospect has been quiet to this point and could see his level of offensive productiveness increase now that Big Ten play is set to begin.
"This is the first week where he's been 100 percent healthy from Sunday all the way through," Bielema said. "We can kind of design some things to get him specifically fit in to. One thing, and you guys saw it in fall camp, Kraig can catch the ball and he's big.
"So, you like that and the element he can kind of bring to the lineup for us. Especially down in the red zone."
Bielema's call to UW student section:
For those that have been to Camp Randall or seen the games televised throughout the non-conference portion of the season, a large section of empty seats have probably been noticed. That, like in years past, continues to be a late arriving student section.
On Thursday night, Bielema made it clear that the team feeds off the fans and would like to see the students, in particular, get there on time and set to cheer on the Badgers.
"We want to start fast," Bielema said. "We're in the Big Ten play and this is an environment, you know, if you showed up late to the Northern Illinois game, you missed the longest play in UW history on the first play.
"So, we're trying to get our students in particular, because they're the greatest fans we've got. They are unbelievable and we want to get the fans in the stadium as soon as we can to have an effect."
Not only does Bielema want a full student section prior to kickoff because his team feeds off it, but also because that makes Camp Randall a very hostile place for the opposing team.
"Michigan State, I saw in comments this week from their coaches and players, how difficult it is playing in Camp Randall," Bielema said. "We want that to be from the beginning to the end."
The following is the audio file from Thursday evening: