MADISON - From his first game as Wisconsin’s head coach in 2006 to Saturday’s opener against Northern Iowa, Bret Bielema hasn’t changed what he expects to see from his team in a season opener.
“I think that first game you really want to make sure that everything you’ve seen in practice carries over to the game,” Bielema said Thursday, less than 48 hours away from the start of his seventh season. “All the things that could naturally go wrong in an opener – substitutions, delay of game – we’ve rehearsed and practiced.”
Bielema upped the tempo during Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in practice before backing off the team Thursday. UW will go through a usual walkthrough on Friday before kicking off its season a little after 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I want to play a clean game,” said Bielema. “I want to play Wisconsin football, and that’s taking care of the football, try to attack it on defense. Play proactively, which means we don’t play behind the chains on first down, second down and third down (on) offense and defense.”
Bielema announced that junior Zac Matthias will ‘probably’ start, but said sophomore Kyle Costigan and senior Robby Burge will likely also get repetitions at the position.
“There is a chance, depending on how things go, we could move Ryan Groy over to right guard and play certain guys at left guard, as well,” said Bielema.
Bielema also said that sophomore Kyle French will start off with field goals and kickoffs, and that there is a situation where Wisconsin would use true freshman Jack Russell.
From the Infirmary
Although Sam Arneson missed over four practices following his knee surgery, the sophomore has responded favorably and could contribute in some capacity Saturday.
“He looks really good,” said Bielema. “Just bringing those legs back, you can tell that he has a little extra pop.”
Chase Hammond (foot) and Vince Biegel (toe) will not play on Saturday. Neither will Dallas Lewallen (knee), but Bielema believes the sophomore guard is on the verge of getting cleared to play next week.
“He’s missed over a year and a half of football, but he’s athletic, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s very into it,” said Bielema of Lewallen. “I was kind of surprised when we threw him some scout team work that he didn’t miss any beats on assignments, alignments or calls. (He’s) a really smart football player and we’re excited to get him back.”
No New Schedule Hints
While Bielema didn’t offer any new scheduling hints when pressed by a reporter, UW’s coach mentioned that he expects the nonconference scheduling to get ‘ratcheted up’ across the country when college football goes to a playoff starting in 2014.
“People would really like to play us, but they just don't want to come to Camp Randall,” said Bielema. “There’s a lot of interest in playing at neutral sites and going to their place, but they won’t come to our place.”
In addition to broaching an idea of playing a conference game within the first four weeks of the season like the SEC, Bielema also said he wouldn’t be opposed to playing a game on a Thursday night to begin the season, but wouldn’t want to play on a Thursday midseason unless the school had to in order to avoid playing on a Friday.
“I am a huge fan of high school football and (Friday) is reserved for them,” said Bielema. “A Thursday night game is intriguing for me, especially if we have to travel or have a big game on the flip side.”
New Scholarships Awarded
With injuries and transfers causing a reduction in scholarship, Bielema announced that redshirt junior tight end Brock DeCicco, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh, and redshirt junior tailback Kyle Zuleger have been placed on scholarship. Both players are guaranteed to be on scholarship this season, but not necessary in 2013.
“Usually I wait until a kid proves it on the field, but Brock gave up a scholarship to come here,” said Bielema. “He has put himself in a position to be our second tight end on the field in a multiple of scenarios, as well as on all four special teams.”
Zuleger, from Appleton East High School, joined the program as a walk-on in 2009 and is starting on all four special-teams units.
"He just is a natural," Bielema said. "Again, another Wisconsin kid that came here for all the right reasons. And why he came here was to prove to everybody he could (play) and that's exactly what he has done."
UW is now at the maximum of 85 scholarships for 2012.
Bielema’s thoughts on Oregon State’s opener being postponed, meaning the Beavers will open their season hosting Wisconsin
“Two thoughts went through my mind. First off, sometimes you make your biggest improvements from game one to game two. It’s a coaching cliché, but I really do believe it’s true, especially with a team that’s a good football team because you can really make some steps that you can’t normally get except for game-time stuff. Flip side of it is they aren’t playing a game so they aren’t going to show anything. There’s no film out there, and you don’t really know how healthy they are based on the guys you see on the field. It’s probably a wash. I am not looking too much into it.”
Extra Points: Wisconsin’s players got to see the Badgers temporary locker rooms for the season while construction is ongoing. While the locker room is temporary, it’s still a dramatic upgrade from the previous room … Instead of entering the field through the north end zone, Wisconsin will now enter through the tunnel that divides the student section … UW’s 2013 game against Brigham Young University, set for Nov. 9 in Madison, could be the first of a three-game series with two of the games being played in Madison.