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MADISON - After five games of the 2012 season, you'd be hard pressed to find someone more anxious to flip the calendar than junior tight end Jacob Pedersen.
With Wisconsin having lost two games in September for the first time in 2001, Pedersen – a Mackey Award semifinalist last season – has been largely absent from the Badgers' new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Expected to be a big contributor to this year's offense, the Badgers' offensive struggles have included Pedersen. Through five games, Pedersen has only nine catches for 95 yards. Against Nebraska, Pedersen didn't record a reception.
"The production that Jacob had in years past was when he was kind of in a secondary role," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "Obviously, he's in more of a forefront here. It's definitely been a drop in his numbers."
Playing in all 14 games with seven starts a season ago, Pedersen was third on the team with 30 catches and 356 receiving yards. His eight receiving touchdowns last season tied for fifth-best at UW and were tied for the second-best mark among TEs in the country.
This season, Pedersen has one score and has been asked to take on more of a blocking role with the Badgers losing Jake Byrne to graduation. With Pedersen's numbers dipping, Bielema acknowledged that Wisconsin might have to monitor the positions they are putting their starting tight end in.
"I think we have to be smart about what we're asking him to do," said Bielema. "We might not be able to do those same things with Ped and expect the same type of results … Until he proves to me otherwise, that's what we've seen. There's no doubt in my mind that Ped is still an effective guy. When I watch him run routes, he had a couple of unbelievable catches last week during practice.
"But as a head coach, the one thing I realized is play one affects play 25 just as much as play 24 does. That's the play we've got to keep in mind."
From the Infirmary
While defensive ends Brendan Kelly (hamstring) and Pat Muldoon (hand) are not listed on the depth chart released Monday, Bielema believes both players could be available when Wisconsin hosts Illinois Saturday.
Muldoon, who has been pestering Bielema to play for the past two weeks, is expected to get the pins removed from his hand and could start practicing Tuesday. Kelly impressed the trainers on Sunday after missing his second game and third overall with a hamstring injury.
What could really give Wisconsin's defense a boost is the potential return of senior captain Shelton Johnson. Breaking his arm in the week two loss at Oregon State, Johnson will have x-rays taken by Tuesday and has an outside chance of returning Saturday.
"He was out on the practice field yesterday," said Bielema. "If he feels good during the course of the week, he could be back out there on Saturday as well, which should be a nice addition for us as well."
In Johnson's place, sophomore safety Michael Trotter has started the last three games, including making a season-high nine tackles against Nebraska.
On if he can draw comparisons to 2010 when Wisconsin lost its conference opener on the road
"2010 and 2011. Wasn't a Big Ten opener, but it was our first road opener to lose to Michigan State two times in a row. I get those questions not always media related, but sometimes my closest friends or relatives will draw comparisons to certain years. I would say that this team is its own set of characters, and the great thing to be with these kids is they want to win every football game. I get it. It can be drawn to that.
"We obviously didn't have a nonconference loss before that game. So to be a 3-2 football team, but obviously to win a game that's not in our division, that's in our conference is critical in a race, but it's not probably paramount. But I do know this. I learn a lot about our football team. I learned a lot about them in the first half, learned a lot about them in the second half. I get excited because a lot of the things that you saw unfold, a lot of them came within our way of doing things.
"Nebraska did a lot of really good things. I'm not taking anything away from them. They're a very good football team. But there are some things that I think our guys, after watching the film and the coaches included, realized, if we just do a couple of things cleaner here and there, I believe the third and fourth quarter could have been to our advantage and obviously walked out of there with a win."
Extra Point: Going against normal protocol of not awarding MVPs following a loss, Wisconsin awarded co-offensive MVP to Jared Abbrederis and Joel Stave, co-defensive MVP to Ethan Hemer and Devin Smith, special teams MVP to Drew Meyer, offensive scout MVP to quarterback Chase Knox and defensive scout MVP Joe Schobert.